RED DOG: We’re off to see the mongrel, the wonderful mongrel of Oz

Directed by Kriv Stenders. Starring Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor, LukeFord, John Batcelor. 92 mins
Rating: Three/Five
In cinemas February 24

So, the polls are in, and it seems I’m a horrible person– apparently my soul turns itself when things, people or animals are pretty. Because while Red Dog is a sweet film, the true story of a mutt’s undying loyalty to and love for his master that caused everyone around me to unabashedly weep in a way that only a heart-wrenching dog story can, I didn’t join them. Because frankly, the bloody dog just isn’t cute.

But don’t say that to an Australian. The stuff of Aussie legend, Red Dog was a cheeky, laconic canine that was known for roaming Australia in the 1970s, finally settling in the mining town of Dampier. Though he forges a bond with the local bus driver (Josh Lucas) and chooses him for a Master, Red Dog remains a generous, loving member of the community who enriches everyone’s life.

As the film begins, Red Dog is critically ill (you know that’s not going to well), and locals begin to share stories with newcomer Luke Ford. But tone rarely feels heavy handed, and as Red Dog’s cheeky antics give a suicidal widow a new joie de vivre and plays matchmaker to a lonely Italian, the film traverses emotional states light-footedly. Only occasionally descending into predictable melancholia, the film is interjected with plenty of gruff, old-fashioned, Australian humour and features charming performances such as John Batchelor as a loveable, bucolic miner.

But while some sequences are delightful – in particular Batchelor’s a heart-wrenching account of Red Dog’s ill-fated search for Lucas following an accident – other subplots, such as Red Dog’s cartoonish rivalry with a local terror of a cat, feel cheap, forgettable, and far from truly heart-breaking Old Yeller territory.

A uniquely Australian film about small town spirit, Red Dog is nostalgic, simple and hearftfelt. But for tricks or tears, it’ll leave neither Uggie nor Old Yeller shaking in their dog-boots.