Straw Dogs

15 Oct

Title: Straw Dogs
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Rod Lurie
Writer: Rod Lurie, based on the original screenplay by David Zelag Goodman and Sam Peckinpah, which was in turn based on the novel by Gordon Williams
Starring: 
James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, James Woods, Walton Goggins
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content, and pervasive language
Runtime: 
110 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
36%

Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs was released forty years ago, and at the time it sparked some controversy, along with A Clockwork Orange which was also released that year, because of its relentless depiction of violence. But it’s still one of Mr. Peckinpah’s greatest film achievements and has one of those classic Dustin Hoffman performances. So considering how great that original film still is, I was actually fully ready to hate the idea of a very unnecessary remake directed by Rod Lurie and starring James Marsden in the role originated by Mr. Hoffman. But then I actually saw it and lo and behold, I was actually pleasantly surprised with the end result, this is a film that’s actually pretty damn competent I thought, though if you’re part of the group that hates the excessive violence of the original this one doesn’t downplay that one bit.

I was just very surprised to find myself actually liking this film a bit. It’s actually a nice little remake that while I still think we could have done without is certainly a good time at the movies. Not to mention that it’s a pretty close remake of the original, I mean it changes the location from Cornwall to Mississippi and instead of a mathematician we now have a screenwriter, but other than that it’s a pretty straightforward recreation of the 1971 film, and when this one’s working on all cylinders it gets to the point in which it really starts getting to you and feeling like a really disturbing and well-made exercise in psychological and physical violence.

It’s just an interesting film at times, which is far more than I ever thought it would have been, because it’s actually kind of cool how it starts exploring the culture clash the goes on and how the lengths that a man will go for his home and family are many times unexpected even to the man himself. You see, we get Mr. Marsden’s character, David, a Hollywood screenwriter with an Ivy League education that’s this sort of refined person with super cultured tastes and behavior, and who moves with his wife, Amy, played by Kate Bosworth, to her hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi in order to find a quiet little place where he can work without much disturbance.

The culture clash that goes on between this refined man and the locals of the town he’s no living in is intensely staged by Mr. Lurie. You have David who’s the kind of guy that listens to classical music and that doesn’t know how to do a hands-on job to save his life and they are the ones that listen to deep country and you can assume haven’t really read that many books in their whole life. And you get the sense that the locals are disturbed by the presence of their new co-inhabitants, leering at the sexy wife and acting towards the couple in a way that varies between the totally ill-meaning and the sort of politeness that comes with an über-threatening tone, a kind of passive aggression that’s nearing it’s boiling point. So we then get this kind of battle between territorial rights that obviously starts escalating to very dangerous heights sooner rather than later and in it, much like in Mr. Peckinpah’s original film, Mr. Lurie tries to create a whole new definition of macho violence.

The outlook Mr. Lurie brings to this kind of ridiculous culture war between David and the pack of locals is actually quite awesome, and chief amongst those local enemies is Charlie, played by Alexander Skarsgård, he’s the guy that’s the big, muscular, handsome ex-jock who obviously dated Amy back in high school, and who just so happens has been hired to fix the barn where David and Amy are going to live. It’s obviously not a great situation, events start escalating at the barn that you just know won’t end up right. David tries to adapt to their ways, to be overly friendly in a kind of way that says to them that he’s trying too hard but that’s also tinged with some sort of condescension, and so they will mock him and take advantage of him to the point in which he just has no choice but to fight back.

There’s a lot to be said about how sex is portrayed here, you get Amy who’s obviously ogled at by the locals and who’s actually provoking them in a way that counts as some of the psychological violence of this film, and you see her being caught between her husband and the men she grew up with and how she’s pretty much asking for trouble to come her way. And then there’s a lot to be said about how this film is so much about the idea of manhood. And when those two things clash it gives way to a rape scene that’s really wonderfully crafted by Mr. Lurie, though in a way that isn’t as shocking as it was in the original in which it was given this sort of sense of eroticism that made the scene kind of disturbing.

And props really should be given to the director, even though he obviously takes a lot from the original, from exact scenes and shots and bits of dialogue, he never once tries to imitate the work of Mr. Peckinpah too much but instead adds a nice level of subtlety that’s all his own. And even though there are times during which this film doesn’t work, because the story and performances get a bit too messy, this is still a respectable and interesting interpretation of a film four decades old. And that’s really what any movie should aim to go, to get you thinking about something, it just so happens that in the case of Straw Dogs it gets you thinking about the superior film from which it spawned. But this is still a very good film about psychological warfare and I was honestly surprised that I liked it this much.

Grade: B

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