More than just a shaggy dog story

Red Dog
Red Dog

WITH Uggi winning the hearts of audiences to The Artist and Martin Scorsese championing the cause of Blackie in Hugo, this seems to be the year of the dog in the movies. And now comes Koko who has the distinction of taking a title role – Red Dog (Cert 12A).

It is the story of a real-life dog in Western Australia whose exploits became the subject of myth and legend before being further embellished in a novella by Louis de Bernieres of Captain Mandolin fame who became intrigued by the canine statue in the town of Dampier.

Reputed to have hitch-hiked thousands of miles in search of his missing master, there are obvious echoes in that of previous shaggy dog tales such as Greyfriars Bobby and the Littlest Hobo.

But Kriv Stenders’ film has more in common with such films as Muriel’s Wedding, Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla Queen of the Desert which offer a warm-hearted, larger-than-life presentation of ordinary folks and champion a special Aussie spirit.

A truck driver (Luke Ford) arrives at a pub in a remote mining community to find locals gathered round a sick dog, which prompts the story to be recounted in flashback.

Red Dog (so called because his coat is covered by the indigenous red ore) hitched a ride one day with the newly-arrived publican and his wife (Noah Taylor and Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) and stayed to become a unifying force in the community, in the process proving a saviour of lives, a matchmaker and scourge of mean-spirited cat-lovers. His special friend is American bus driver Josh Lucas, a fellow drifter to whom he gives a sense of belonging.

Beneath the broad-brushed characterisation of almost child-like eccentricity is an underlying loneliness and desperation among the disparate bunch which mitigates against the obvious sentimentality in depicting the community and the romantic view of the rust-coloured landscape captured by cinematographer Geoffrey Hall.

An imperious cast of British acting talent headed by Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson check in to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Cert 12A).

Add to that an exotic Indian location and there is much to recommend in the gentle comedy from Shakespeare in Love director John Madden though it is likely to appeal mostly to their contemporaries, “the grey pound” which hotelier Dev Patel admits he is chasing.

Adapted by Ol Parker from Deborah Moggach’s novel, These Foolish Things, it is the story of a group of assorted British sixtysomethings who for various reasons opt to leave troubles back home behind and retire to India after spotting an advertisement for a “luxury development for residents in their golden years” in Jaipur.

What they don’t anticipate – though we do, of course – is that it will turn out to be nothing of the sort. In different ways the group respond to the challenge reflecting their personalities – the easy-going Nighy in contrast to his snobbish wife (Penelope Wilton), Wilkinson’s Indophile ex-judge to Smith’s embittered cockney racist, and so on. For some, the experience turns out to give them a new lease of life, while for at least one it remains a big mistake.

The plot may be sentimental escapism but the distinguished cast of veteran thesps are on top form and it has some poignant and acute observations on getting old.