Oz Film Festival: Red Dog: True Blue Review
Red Dog, released in Australia in 2011 (February 2012 in the UK), based on Louis de Bernières’s novella, itself inspired by fact, was a big hit on its home turf. As I write this, it is the eleventh biggest-grossing Australian film at the local box office, though it didn’t replicate its success overseas. However, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that there’s at least one reason why it doesn’t lend itself to having a sequel. So, Red Dog: True Blue, five years on, again written by Daniel Taplitz and directed by Kriv Stenders, is a prequel. Or rather an imaginary one as the storyline and all the characters, apart from the main canine one, are fictitious. The real Red Dog has a statue of himself in Dampier, Western Australia.
The first film was partly concerned with the telling of stories, and how stories become legends – local ones, anyway – and this new film begins quite self-reflexively in Perth in 2011, as Michael Carter (Jason Isaacs), a separated husband and none-too-attentive father, has forgotten that he promised to take his two sons to the movies that evening. The film they go to see? You guessed it - Red Dog. By the end of the film, Michael, to his embarrassment, finds himself in tears. The reason, as he tells his son Nicholas (Winta McGrath), is that he knew the red dog (played by Phoenix). In fact he gave him the name of Blue – as when he found him as a puppy he was covered in bluish mud after a rainstorm. It was only after he washed the mud off that he realised that Blue was actually red.
We’re now in 1969, and Michael (played by Levi Miller, in his second lead role in the festival, after Jasper Jones), is sent to stay with his grandfather (Bryan Brown) in the red-sanded desert of North-Western part of the state. His mother has gone away temporarily, for reasons we and Michael don’t yet know. Grandfather is at first reluctant to let Michael keep Blue, but the dog soon becomes part of the family, as Michael settles down to life on the cattle station. He’s distracted by his six-year-older teacher Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) who herself has eyes for stockman Stemple (Thomas Cocquerel), himself six years older still.
At just under ninety minutes, Red Dog: True Blue is well paced and entertaining, though can’t quite overcome an episodic storyline. It doesn't avoid sentimentality either, but some salty humour keeps most of it at bay. Much of the film is about the characters on the station that Michael gets to know – as we do, also including Aboriginal jackaroo Taylor Pete (Calen Tassone) and Chinese chef Jimmy Umbrella (Kee Chan), so named because he is never without it. There's also the landscape, which ooks striking in returning cinematographer Geoffrey Hall’s widescreen cinematography. Although this is PG-level family fare (some mild language might put it out of the reach of the very young) it builds in appeal to older generations with its period setting and some contemporary pop and rock on the soundtrack. Some of this is a little on the nose: for example, Michael hard at work in his office in the opening scene is accompanied by the Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind”. It’s a very watchable prequel that doesn't really match the first film, and you doubt that this dog has much more cinematic life in it.
Red Dog: True Blue was shown at the Oz Film Festival in London. The film was released on 24 July on DVD by Signature Entertainment, under the new title Red Dog: The Early Years.