STRAW DOGS Review: A Taut, Provocative Thriller

Whether you view this version of Straw Dogs through the eyes of a cynical remake-hater or through those of a viewer new to the story, this a tight, suspenseful thriller with a level of emotional depth not present in the vast majority of Hollywood movies.

rating: 4

Forty years after the release of the original, Rod Lurie steps into Sam Pekinpah€™s sizable boots to remake the infamous cult classic Straw Dogs. Relocating the action for the cold Cornwall countryside to steamy Mississippi this adaptation wisely sticks closely to the taut plot of the original, with the characters, dynamics and even some scenes being practically line-by-line replications, while making some intelligent changes and additions to the piece to make it more suited for a modern audience. The result is a faithful remake, which despite lacking the grittiness, captures the essence of what is at heart an underdog story and how under certain circumstances even the most morally rigid person can be reduced to a human of basest nature in order to survive. Hollywood screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth), relocate from sunny LA to her hometown and into her deceased father€™s house in a tiny backwater town in Mississippi so he can concentrate on his latest script €“ a big budget adaptation of the battle of Stalingrad. Not long after arriving they hire Amy€™s high school sweetheart, Charlie and his crew of cowboy builders to renovate their barn. But as temperatures rise, tempers flare and passions run wild as David€™s intolerance to the ways of the country folk and their dislike of the outsider who has taken away their Southern Belle create conflict, which soon leads to violence and bloodshed. We could argue about the validity of this remake and remakes in general until we are blue in the face and ultimately we would get nowhere; it happens, so let€™s just try our best to judge it as a standalone piece, if this is possible. What this version of Straw Dogs does very well is realise the strengths of the story and remain very faithful to them. The opening scene where all the characters and dynamics are introduced in a bar is almost word for word of the original; the only difference is the accents and switch from country pub to country bar. It€™s a great scene, nicely changed to suit the new setting. The same applies to Sumner€™s profession; he still has the big chalk board that Amy seductively plays with, but his job is more suited to this new version. Furthermore the choice to have him write about the gratest underdog struggle in military history, has obvious resonance with the bigger picture here, with Marsden pitted against a sizable force of antagonism and severly outnumbered. Its failings are when it deviates from the original. The third act is an example of this where changes turn it into a clunky mess. The use of the bear trap induced belly laughs from my fellow viewers; I doubt this was the intended reaction from the filmmakers. Furthermore, where Peckinpah used ambiguity, Lurie does the opposite, revealing the machinations and motivations and giving unnecessary explanation; the defining of €˜Straw dogs€™ is the most obvious example of this. Kate Bosworth gives an able leading performance; she€™s a stronger, more independent Amy than that of Susan George, but equally as sexy and handles the complex emotional scenes with great style. But the show is stolen by the two male leads, who do great justice to their roles. James Marsden is hardly of the same miniature build of Dustin Hoffman €“ he€™s in better shape than most guys €“ but beside the hulking Alexander Skarsgard he is diminutive; the contrast in appearance and character is perfectly exploited throughout, with Marsden€™s educated, logical, atheist acting as perfect opposite to Skarsgard€™s God-fearing, country boy. The most contentious and controversial element of the original was the double rape scene which may or may not have been anal rape, and may or may not have been a scene that depicted a woman enjoying rape. It is this ambiguity that made it such a provocative and controversial scene. Here the filmmakers manage to maintain the shock factor of the scene and introduce an entirely different level of complexity, which is perhaps even more However, while the story is nicely updated, director Rod Lurie does little to put his stylistic stamp on the piece. In this respect it is pale in contrast to the original where Peckinpah€™s auteurial style is present throughout the whole film. Here character introductions are weak, with the cinematography and editing hugely to blame. Whether you view this version of Straw Dogs through the eyes of a cynical remake-hater or through those of a viewer new to the story originally told in the form of the novel €˜The Siege of Trencher€™s Farm€™, this a tight, suspenseful thriller with a level of emotional depth not present in the vast majority of Hollywood movies. Excessively violent and sexually charged this is solid provocative and suspenseful thriller. Straw Dogs is released in the UK today.
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!