Straw Dogs (2011) movie review
Written by: Rod Lurie, based on an earlier screenplay by David Zelag Goodman and Sam Peckinpah which was based on Gordon Williams novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm”
Cast: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, and James Woods
Runtime: 110 min.
Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, starring screen legend Dustin Hoffman and the sensual Susan George, was a transgressive film for its time due largely to a rape scene which fulfilled the fantasy of many a misogynistic rapist. However, the film was mainly an intense meditation on masculinity and being a stranger in a foreign land. Masterfully crafted by an immensely talented director and not a horror film per se, nonetheless Straw Dogs has been given an update and slickly marketed to the masses as the latest horror film reborn.
David Sumner moves with his wife Amy back to her small hometown in order to better concentrate on his work. A stone cottage with a barn becomes their new home, but things are not as idyllic as they seem in the rustic environ that is seemingly very far away from the complexities of city life. Amy’s former beau has designs on her, and the couple made the mistake of hiring him and his crew to fix up the barn unwittingly opening the doorway to disaster. This culminates in a night of violence which begins with a sudden car accident and an act of sympathy. This in turn leads to David Sumner’s last stand against the tyranny of straw dogs.
This updated version changes the setting from a small village in England to a small town in Mississippi. While losing the ironic commentary about the violence of America versus the faux quiet life of the Old World the remake does gain points for increasing the American viewer’s ability to identify with the Sumner’s situation. City dwellers moving into the not so comfy confines of insular country living remains the theme just not on the international scale of the original film.
Amy, instead of being just an overgrown schoolgirl with a hardcore crush on her professor, has been transformed into a successful television actress. The classic small town cheerleader makes it big scenario. Moving back to Amy’s former home was David’s idea since long ago Amy punched her ticket out of town and never thought to look back let alone live there once again. Kate Bosworth plays Amy as a bored out of work actress rather than the seductive yet childish Lolita that Susan George embodied. This American Amy has more of a womanly appeal to her thus helping female viewers identify with her plight a whole lot more. James Marsden’s David Sumner, instead of Dustin Hoffman’s staid mathematician, is now a screenwriter writing a screenplay about the battle of Stalingrad. I feel in this instance this is a case of miscasting. James Marsden once played Cyclops, a member of the X-Men, essentially a superhero. To have him play a nebbish writer when there’s a legion of such character actors available reeks of Hollywood marketing as if to say women will only watch movies with Hollywood studs in them. Marsden played the role fine, but perhaps if the character were changed to an actor that would’ve been a better fit in terms of creating an additional commentary on the difference between acting and actually living.
Alexander Skarsgård as Charlie, the ex-quarterback leader of the pack of straw dogs, while quietly menacing also feels like another case of miscasting. Drop him in L.A. and his Charlie would have no problem picking up women that look even better than his ex-girlfriend Amy. It would have been better had the filmmakers cast a balding, heavyset actor in the role truly underscoring the fall from the pinnacle of high school glory to washed out past-his-prime loser. James Woods, looking almost ancient, chews up the scenery as the drunken ex-football coach still revered by his former players despite his ever-increasing ornery destructiveness. You can just feel the seething rage beneath his grizzled exterior in each scene James Woods acts in lending the film its tense quality.
A standout scene I enjoyed in Rod Lurie’s version was the hunting scene. A dense fog, the crackle of a rifle blast, and a buck out of the blue combined for a taut sequence which bested the original hunting scene. As for the infamous rape scene, the remake had a small echo of Amy succumbing to the bestial charms of her rapist/ex-boyfriend, but not nearly to the disturbing effect of the original film. All in all, Straw Dogs 2011 is one of the better remakes to emerge from the Hollywood remake factory. While not necessarily as lean and mean as its predecessor the film added additional flavors to the mix which gave the story a more familiar, downhome appeal.