Red Dog: True Blue

RED DOG: TRUE BLUE. Starring: Jason Isaacs, Levi Miller, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, and Bryan Brown. Directed by Kriv Stenders. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language). 89 min.

 This Australian comedy-drama film is based on a story associated with a short 2001 novel, "Red Dog" written by Louis de Bernieres. The film based on that novel swept the awards in 2011. This film is a prequel that explores Red Dog's earlier days in the Pilbara region of outback Australia. It brings back the original Director, producer and writer and the same remote area of Australia that was depicted in the 2011 movie. The scene is set by early flashbacks from the original movie

 The first film was a fictional account of Red Dog's life and the people who befriended him, and this film is a fictional account of the same dog's origins. It traces the life of a dog that became a legend in the 1970 by roaming without a master through the mining communities of the Pilbara.

The movie is also a coming-of-age story about an unsettled young boy, Mick (Levi Miller), who is sent away to a cattle station in the Pilbara to live with his grandfather (Bryan Brown). Mick's institutionalised mother is a victim of depression, and can no longer take care of him, and his father has passed away. His grandfather has the responsibility of looking after Mick for his daughter's sake.

 Reconciled to a lonely time, and trying to survive a stern, punitive grandfather, Mick forms an attachment to a chaotic, awkward-looking dog that grows to adore him. He finds Red Dog as a puppy after a cyclone has ravaged the region, and the two become inseparable. Mick and his canine companion, which he names "Blue", share life together.

 The story-line is not original, and other movies have explored similar themes. A conflicted adolescent boy, in need of a male role model, and attracted physically to an older attractive female tutor (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), undergoes a series of adventures some of which have spiritual overtones, and finds help in coping from a beloved animal. Meanwhile, an elderly irascible man, who was initially resentful of his grandson's intrusion into his life, grows in attachment. As events unfold in a loose narrative structure, the grandfather becomes endeared to a grandson he never knew, and he comes to care for the animal who has faithfully looked after and protected the boy, who has become a significant part of his life. Other themes in the film are the tensions of encroaching mining, the pull of indigenous culture, and the inevitability of family and animal love.

 The film is narrated by Jason Isaacs, as Mick looking back on his life, and the film is a welcome return to the screen for Bryan Brown, who is best known for his awarded role as Lt. Peter Handcock in Bruce Beresford's 1980 film, "Breaker Morant". Brown has done many other movies since then, but this one has him in good acting form.

 The original Red Dog died of heart disease in Perth in 2012. This movie could be of the same dog, if he had lived. Despite Red Dog's real-life passing, this is a straight-forward, Australian movie for uncomplicated family viewing at Christmas time. It reminds us nostalgically of a very popular character, shows an adolescent finding maturity through affection for a loyal animal friend, and there is good consistency in the film's direction. Excellent photography of a red-drenched, sunburnt country, not too far from urban civilisation, is accompanied by an attractive musical sound-track.

 This is not a world-beater film. It is obviously told, and is intended to provide kind-hearted, sentimental, holiday cheer with a strong nostalgic pull. It shows "Red Dog" back in action again, defending a new-found master, with just a faint hint there might be more adventures to come as Blue goes wandering off, when Mick is forced to leave his beloved dog, and his grandpa behind.

 Few actors on screen, adult or child, can hope to match what a well trained, loveable-looking animal can easily deliver, and this film is no exception to that rule.

 Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released December 26th., 2016

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