Racing greyhounds can run at over 40mph. Stainforth race track has a maximum track length of 887m, which it uses for marathon races. Sprints are shorter than that. Forty miles per hour is just shy of 18 metres per second. So, with the longest track, a race would take around 50 seconds. This is around the length of time Dusty & Me should have been.
In this tale of man’s best friend and a man nobody likes, the audience is transported back to 1977 to follow the story of Derek Springfield (Luke Newberry), known as Dusty, as he returns home from private school waiting to discover if he’ll be allowed to leave the hellhole of the north of England. Dusty is better than Leeds, you see, because he could get into Oxford University.
Whilst at home, Dusty continues to not fit in, even as his brothers and mother provide supportive voices. He even gains a lovely dog. She’s a greyhound- because a whippet would be too stereotypical- called Slapper and nobody thinks she’s a fast runner. Dusty takes on the project of training her, a welcome distraction from not fitting in with the locals and being rejected by his father. It doesn’t hurt that a girl he likes (Chrissie, played by Genevieve Gaunt) is quite taken by the dog and starts to pay attention when his four-legged friend is in tow.
Dusty is a brave choice for a lead character, or rather he’s a lead character done badly. Cinema, both indie and big budget, is littered with those who don’t quite fit in but manage to be relatable enough for audiences to feel sympathy or support. Dusty comes across as arrogant, as if intelligence genuinely does make him a better person than those he knows. He is not offered much development beyond being clever and wanting to leave everyone behind, even post-redemption. His relationship with his father but underplayed to a fault. Dusty’s acceptance later in the film comes not from his arrogance changing, but when his dog is stolen and the locals realise he is capable of human emotion.
The dog theft is a low-point of this film, despite its intentions of being the turning point. The criminals who steal Slapper do so because she’s fast and they then put her into an illegal race to prove to us, the audience who already knew this, that she is definitely fast. If the dog had gotten lost and returned, the outcome would not have been any different. Actually no, it would have been less physically painful as you would not need to retrieve your eyeballs from the back of your head and take a minute to recover from the strain of rolling them all the way back in there. The villains of the piece have no other significant impact apart from to influence a visual gag when characters don punky disguises to attend a race at the end. The only relationships truly solidified by the ‘threat’ already existed.
There are good actors in the mix who have previously given great performances elsewhere but there’s simply not enough for them to work with. Iain Glen is the strongest, taking on the role of greyhound owner who seems shady at first but turns out to be a decent bloke. It should be a story of alienation and the connection between man and beast but falls short of the finish line. The heart-warming effect it wants to achieve never achieves room temperature.
Films like these are reliant on strong characters and interesting settings. The feel-good factor never quite lands and is drawn out longer than it needs to be by following the numbers and throwing in a villainous escapade which drags it down. Dusty & Me relies on the dog to make the lead likeable. In a way, this is possible, so long as in your mind the dog is the main character.
Dir: Betsan Evans Morris
Scr: Rob Isted
Cast: Luke Newberry, Genevieve Gaunt, Ian Hart, Lesley Sharp, Lee Ross, Ben Batt, Iain Glen
Prod: Barry Filby, Alan Latham
Music: Stef Patch
Run Time: 94 minutes
Dusty & Me is available on VoD October 1.