You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Red Dog: True Blue’

Director Kriv Stenders returns with a prequel to the 2011 Aussie hit that serves as a cheerfully calculated origin story for the canine icon.

Phoenix, Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Thomas Cocquerel, John Jarratt, Steve Le Marquand, Syd Brisbane, Kee Chan, Kelton Pell, Calen Tassone, Jason Isaacs, Justine Carke, Zen McGrath, Winta McGrath.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3567194/

Considering that the original “Red Dog” made a phenomenal $20.6 million at the Australian box office in 2011, winning a slew of awards before going on to become the best-selling domestic DVD of all time, a sequel was inevitable. Perhaps as a result of the death of the original Red Dog, Koko, in 2012, screenwriter Daniel Taplitz pitched the idea of an origin story to Stenders and producer Nelson Woss. The resulting film is built with the same sturdy, if somewhat obvious, template as its predecessor, following the outback adventures of a newly-acclimated city boy and his trusty Kelpie companion. Spots in the kids sidebars of the Sundance and Berlin fests ensures further exposure, and if the muscular Aussie box office since its Boxing Day debut is any indication, lightning could very well strike twice.

According to Outback folklore, there really was a Red Dog, and his plucky antics became the stuff of legend, subsequently codified in a 2001 book by British-born “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” author Louis de Bernieres. The Red Cloud Kelpie was known for roaming from town to town, adopting disparate people from all walks of life, and uniting them through loyalty and sheer force of personality. It’s a quintessential Aussie tale that clearly struck a chord with moviegoers.

Like the original, this prequel begins with a framing device. In 2011 Perth, hard-charging businessman dad Mick Carter (Jason Isaacs) reluctantly takes his two young boys Theo (Zen McGrath) and Nicholas (Winta McGrath) to see the original “Red Dog” at the urging of his wife Diane (Justine Clarke). The viewing triggers memories of his own childhood and his trusty, often flatulent, canine best mate.

Flash back to the late 1960s, where young Mick (Levi Miler), his family riven by death and institutionalization, is shipped from Sydney to the vast Pilbara region of north Western Australia. The final destination is the vast Warndurala cattle station, run with gruff efficiency by Mick’s crusty, taciturn Grandpa (Bryan Brown).

Once again, there’s a sizeable cast of eccentric outback characters: Asian cook Jimmy Umbrella (Key Chan), so-called because he hates the sun; guitar-strumming helicopter pilot and Vietnam vet Bill Stemple (Thomas Cocquerel); Mutt-and-Jeff stockmen brothers Little John (Syd Brisbane) and Big John (Steve Le Marquand); teenage Aboriginal jackaroo and budding activist Taylor Pete (Calen Tassone); and Taylor’s elders Durack (Kelton Pell) and Mrs. Abby (Josie Aec).

While chasing loose chickens in the wake of a cyclone (hey, that’s life in the outback), Mick finds a Kelpie puppy (Phoenix) caked with tinted mud that inspires the name Blue. The two become inseparable best mates and a year passes, highlighted by motorcycle hijinks, Mick’s obsession with Grandpa’s vinyl pressing of Peter and the Wolf, and a one-eyed horse named Willy who was struck by lightning and thus thinks he’s a bull.

Into this mix of testosterone and hard labor comes Betty Marble (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), a tutor brought up from Perth by Grandpa to ensure Mick’s long-distance education. She proves the catalyst for inevitable change at the cattle station, inspiring the grown-up Mick to later muse, “The good memories we have, we get to keep.”

As an original Boys Own adventure, the film succeeds in painting a vividly nostalgic, if necessarily episodic, picture of an old-fashioned European Australian outback experience of sturdy men in a hard land. Wisely, the filmmakers have woven in a subplot involving Aboriginal traditions and land rights issues which, along with Betty’s destabilizing presence, provide what modest narrative tension the film possesses.

Stenders has his cast play broadly but deftly; in particular, young Miller holds his own against Brown’s imposing persona. The boy’s chemistry with Phoenix is palpable, and each major cast member has a moment of his own. Industry vet John Jarratt, star of the “Wolf Creek” films, has a brief, unrecognizable turn as real-life local character Lang Hancock.

Worthy of note is the warm glow of cinematographer Geoffrey Hall’s visual palette, which shows the distinctive red-tinged soil of the Pilbara to distinctive effect. All other craft credits are fine, with Cezary Skubiszewski’s flavorful original score supplemented by shrewd use of such standards as Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line.”

The end credits feature some thank you’s by Phoenix and a dedication to Koko.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Red Dog: True Blue'

Reviewed online, Sydney, Jan. 23, 2016. (In Sundance, Berlin film festivals). Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: (Australia) A Roadshow Films, Good Dog Distribution, Screen Australia presentation, in association with ScreenWest, LotteryWest, Endymion Films, of a Woss Group Film production. (International sales: Roadshow Films/Good Dog Distribution, Sydney.) Producers: Nelson Woss, Bryce Menzies. Executive producers: Marc van Buuren, Daniel Taplitz, Colin Vaines, Graham Burke, Joel Pearlman, Di Bain, John Poynton, Greg Parker.

Crew: Director: Kriv Stenders. Screenplay, Daniel Taplitz. Camera (color, widescreen): Geoffrey Hall. Editor: Rodrigo Balart, Jill Bilcock. Music: Cezary Skubiszewski.

With: Phoenix, Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Thomas Cocquerel, John Jarratt, Steve Le Marquand, Syd Brisbane, Kee Chan, Kelton Pell, Calen Tassone, Jason Isaacs, Justine Carke, Zen McGrath, Winta McGrath.

More Film

  • Ella Balinska, Kristen Stewart and Naomi

    China Box Office: 'Charlie's Angels' Kept Earthbound by Local Romcom

    The new “Charlie’s Angels” reboot was no match for a local romantic comedy or a 20-year-old Giuseppe Tornatore film at the Chinese box office, bringing in just $7.6 million in its debut weekend, according to figures from consultancy Artisan Gateway. Directed by Elizabeth Banks and starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, the film [...]

  • Climbing Blind

    ‘Climbing Blind’ Snares Kendal Mountain Festival Grand Prize

    KENDAL    “Climbing Blind,” from Alastair Lee, took the Grand Prize at the 2019 Kendal Mountain Festival on Saturday. Detailing the ascent of a vertical rock pillar, the film revealed how a blind mountaineer led the climb, assisted only by a sight-partner a rope length below. The film had particular significance for a British audience, [...]

  • Jon Voight'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' film

    President Trump to Award Jon Voight the National Medal of Arts

    President Trump will present actor Jon Voight, musician Allison Krauss, and mystery writer James Patterson with the national medal of arts. Voight is one of few in Hollywood who has been vocal about his support of President Trump in the past, calling him “the greatest president of this century.” The White House announced four recipients [...]

  • Zack Snyder arrives at the 2018

    'Justice League': Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder Support Release of 'Snyder Cut'

    Zack Snyder, Gal Gadot, and Ben Affleck have taken to social media to request that Warner Bros. release the Snyder cut of “Justice League.” Snyder, who helmed “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” and was “Justice League’s” original director, had to leave production on the film partway through after his daughter died, with Joss [...]

  • Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On?

    Whose Side Is 'Marriage Story' On? (Column)

    Do we choose sides when we watch “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and wrenching drama of divorce? The question, on the face of it, sounds facile in a dozen ways the movie isn’t. Rarely are there winners in divorce, and there are two sides to every breakup. “Marriage Story” is a movie that reflects that [...]

  • The Letter

    IDFA: Kenyan Documentary ‘The Letter’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given access to the trailer for Kenyan documentary “The Letter,” by producer-director duo Christopher King and Maia Lekow, which world premieres Nov. 23 at IDFA. The film follows a young man who travels to his grandmother’s rural home when he learns she’s been accused of witchcraft. He soon discovers that the threatening letter she [...]

  • Warner Bros. Box Office

    With 'Good Liar' and 'Doctor Sleep,' Warner Bros.' Box Office Misfortunes Mount

    When Warner Bros. was crafting its 2019 slate, the studio took pains to offer more than just superhero movies. To be sure, there were lots of masked vigilantes too, but more than any of its big studio brethren, Warner Bros. was willing to take a risk on the kinds of thrillers, adult dramas, coming-of-age stories, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content