music / “By Arrangement”, Selby & Friends. At James O Fairfax Theatre. May 22. Review by CLINTON WHITE.
WHEN “Red Dog” came out in 2011, did you wonder about its back story? It mightn’t have had one then but now it does, written again by Daniel Taplitz and directed by Kriv Stenders.
Perth businessman Michael (Jason Isaacs) is adamant. His son Nicholas isn’t getting a dog for his sixth birthday. Michael tells Nicholas a story about the late 1960s when he too didn’t have a dog.
At a secondary-school age Michael (Levi Miller) goes to to spend a year on Warndurala at Grandpa’s (Bryan Brown) Pilbara beef property. Only one horse on the place, kept for sentimental reasons after being struck by lightning in a cyclone a decade earlier. It a bit loopy and blind in one eye. Everything else is mechanised.
Another cyclone comes. In the aftermath, Michael, whom the station folk call Mick, sees a laundry tub lodged in the fork of a tree and in it, a red kelpie pup covered in blue mud. Mick calls him Blue.
Taplitz’s screenplay makes the most of the companionship between boy and dog, mingling comic moments with adventures in the bush. Laconic at the best of times, Grandpa doesn’t hurry to give Mick his birthday present but the boy’s soon tearing around the property on it. Lang Hancock (John Jarratt) drops in for dinner and tries to get Grandpa interested in the potential of that red dust.
A governess (Hannah Mangan Lawrence) arrives to tend to Mick’s education. He falls in love but she finds the chopper pilot’s maturity more desirable. Mick goes walkabout. In a cave he picks up a rock which a young aboriginal stockman, says is sacred to an ancestor who fled from the police (this might refer to Jandamarra, leader of one of the few armed aboriginal insurrections against European colonists). Nothing goes right for Mick until he puts it back.
Hannah flies away. Mick goes to boarding school. People see Blue pining for Mick all over the Pilbara. A passing 4WD towing a trailer pulls up and Blue runs up to it. Looks familiar, that moment. Nicholas gets his puppy.
It’s nicely done, very family-friendly, with moments when more attention to outback detail wouldn’t have gone amiss.
At all cinemas