Straw Dogs-attachment0

Straw Dogs

Movie Information

The Story: A young couple return to the wife's Southern home town and run afoul of the tight-knit, yahoo locals, leading to violence. The Lowdown: A pointless dumbing down of the original movie, which transplants to the present as a witless revenge melodrama.
Score:

Genre: Revenge Drama
Director: Rod Lurie (Resurrecting the Champ)
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods, Dominic Purcell
Rated: R

Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs—a remake of the 1971 film by Sam Peckinpah—is perhaps the most superfluous remake exercise ever. (Or at least the most superflous since Gus Van Sant attempted his very peculiar shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998.) The main problem is not that Lurie’s remake is inferior to the original—though it is—but rather that its shock value is long gone. All that’s left is a semi-effective, sometimes incomprehensible, out of its time, revenge picture in search of a drive-in theater that closed 30-odd years ago—which is really where this film belongs.

Peckinpah’s film was a product of its time. It was Vietnam-era stuff. It spoke to that sensibility. It brought graphic violence to the screen—as did Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell’s The Devils, which were from the same year—in a way that shocked and horrified viewers. Even in the context of Peckinpah’s own, often violent filmography, this was a departure. The balletic, highly stylized, slow-motion bloodiness of his The Wild Bunch (1969) was nowhere to be seen here. Here, the violence became, if anything, even faster than reality—and deliberately nasty. Its point was to shock—and to alert the viewer to the violence that lay dormant in everyone. Not only that, but it served as a warning that society was turning the same violent corner that the main character was and was likely to find that it wouldn’t know its way home.

So, here we are 40 years later, with the story intact—almost point for point—but with the disturbing ambiguity of the original dropped (along with any nudity, presumably disturbing as well), the location changed and a more vapid cast to tell the tale. The changes do nothing to help. Moving the story to the American South instead of rural England was not a good idea. Among other things, most of the audience no longer feels out of place and are no longer tied to the main character in the same way. It also kills the idea that the character is trying to get away from the violence pervading his own country. What we get instead is a series of good ol’ boy yahoo cliches set in an entire community of fundamentalist Christians. It’s been turned into Straw Dogs Meets Deliverance—with the significance of neither.

Changing Dustin Hoffman’s wimpy mathematician to James Marsden’s preeningly wimpy Hollywood screenwriter is one of those changes that immediately trigger a kind of “You’re kidding, right?” response. Only they’re not kidding. That Marsden is supposedly writing a movie about the Siege of Stalingrad is another groaner, but one of the cheesy symbolism kind. See? The character will live out his own siege in the course of the film. The line between sybolism and silliness has rarely been thinner. I’m also not sure what the deal was with giving Marsden a 1967 Jaguar XK-E with a hood ornament the car never had. Its presence is kind of explained, but it plays out like something that was tacked on so the yahoos could shoot the ornament off. Well, why not?

Otherwise the remake covers the same territory—and so completely by rote that, for me, it became difficult to stay awake in between set pieces as the movie slogged its way toward the violent finale. If you don’t know the story, you may get more out of it: An outsider and his wife move to her small home town where they’re harassed, raped and/or menaced by the locals leading to a showdown. The acting is no great shakes. James Marsden perhaps thought this was a step-up from being the new Easter Bunny in Hop, but this feels like the Easter Bunny going medieval on a bunch of rednecks more than than anything. Kate Bosworth is Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård is beefy, and James Woods chews the scenery. Now, if they could have worked that bear-trap business into I Don’t Know How She Does It, they’d’ve been onto something.

Will anyone be talking about this Straw Dogs 40 years from now? Really? It’s unlikely they’ll be talking about it 40 days from now. Rated R for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content, a pervasive language.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

15 thoughts on “Straw Dogs

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    How about 40 HOURS from now! I liked the movie better than you did but that still doesn’t keep it from winning the most pointless remake of the year award (so far).

  2. Melissa

    I appreciate the heads up about the movie, but the comment “Alexander Skarsgard is beefy” will send me straight to the theater. I would pay to watch that delicious Swedish export read the phone book on the big screen and surely not be disappointed. There are many movies I watch for critical reasons, but are those I watch simply because they have a specific actor I just want to see. Straw Dogs is the latter for me.

  3. Ken Hanke

    How about 40 HOURS from now!

    I’m sorry. What movie were we talking about?

  4. Ken Hanke

    the comment “Alexander Skarsgard is beefy” will send me straight to the theater.

    He takes his shirt off. A lot.

    • Melissa

      LOL. It’s funny you added that particular photo since I happen to already have it in my folder full of downloaded ASkars photos! But I do appreciate the gesture, Ken.

      I went to see Straw Dogs and was definitely on the fence about a lot of it. Alex’s performance was downright chilling to me. He mixed up my emotions of feeling sympathetic with Charlie and at the same time being scared to death of him.

      However, Amy and David had such poor dynamics and an incongruous connection to each other that by the end, I really hated David and honestly didn’t care what happened to Amy. When Charlie was beating the crap out of David, I actually felt like cheering him on.

      Truly, the performances, writing, and odd plot arc carried it along so that I felt more on the side of the “bad guy” than the supposed “good guy”. Charlie at least seemed to have some real motivation for his behavior (unrequited love for Amy, loyalty to his former football coach). David and Amy just went along doing odd things with basically unknown reasons. I can’t get behind a character if I don’t understand their reasoning for acting the way they do.

      It doesn’t help that Kate Bosworth has never impressed me as much of a talent, and James Marsden hasn’t done anything I’ve found interesting since X-Men. At least Alex manages to find nuances to his character Eric on True Blood season after season that keep me coming back, intrigued by his expressive depth in what could potentially be your typical campy vampire.

      All of that said, yes, Straw Dogs bombed at the box office, but Alex pulled off a performance that makes me curious to see what else he pulls out of his bag of tricks. I’m already quite attached to seeing what new side he brings out in Eric each season of TB, and now that he’s making a lot of movies, I look forward to what he has to offer his various big screen roles.

      Besides his hot body, Alex’s amazing facial expressions that truly added substance to Charlie was the only thing really worth going to watch Straw Dogs for.

  5. Ray

    Well I really enjoyed the movie, I took it for what it is,entertainment! Also the cast was awesome and delivered great performances

  6. Ken Hanke

    I think our definition of “great performances” is different. I know our definition of “awesome” does.

  7. pbt

    I would never say this movie would be up for an Academy Award or anything but I did enjoy watching it. I agree with some of the other posters about Alexander Skarsgard. Hollywood must be listening because Alexander has several movies being released in the upcoming months.

    If you want hot, sweaty and hunky then Straw Dogs and Alexander is for you. If you are looking for superbly written dialogue or surprise ending, then Straw Dogs is not for you.

    Having seen the original, the only similarity is the name of the movie. I had no problem with the change of setting or even with Kate Bosworth and James Marsden. I did have a problem with the character development between Amy and David. I felt Lurie should have developed their relationship even more.Dialogue between the two main characters was sparse at best. Needed more motivations for Amy’s behavior.

    Kudos to James Woods. No one does crazy like he does. Kudos to Alexander for bringing more to the character than just the “rapist”.

    Going to see it a second time this weekend. Like it was said above, I would watch Alexander read the phone book. In this case, I would watch Alexander sweaty and take off his shirt. Ahhhh.

  8. ray

    Hey hanke at least you can appreciate Alexander has a huge following so keep up the good sense of humour and we will continue reading your blog,just don’t mess up with our favourite hunk please…also he has way more to offer than his pecs and abs.
    I love how you answer every single post.looking forward to your answer

  9. DrSerizawa

    What we get instead is a series of good ol’ boy yahoo cliches set in an entire community of fundamentalist Christians.

    I’m wondering when filmmakers will figure out how lazy of a cliche’ that’s become.

  10. DrSerizawa

    …and James Woods chews the scenery.

    Was that the high point?

  11. Ken Hanke

    he has way more to offer than his pecs and abs.

    For me, that remains to be seen, since I’ve never seen True Blood and my only prior exposure to him is Zoolander where I don’t remember him at all. Straw Dogs is not a great introduction to him.

    I love how you answer every single post

    That’s not invariably true, though unless someone is being pointlessly abusive, I try to respond.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I’m wondering when filmmakers will figure out how lazy of a cliche’ that’s become.

    An interesting question with no answer. The problem is, of course, that these elements do exist. (The original made the point — accidentally or otherwise — that these elements are not the exclusive province of any country.) I’ve lived my entire life in the south. I have seen all these things. I have never seen them as all pervasive as they are here. Perhaps I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps a place like the one in the film exists only in the mind of the writer.

    Was that the high point?

    Even as someone who enjoys seeing actors go over the top, this left me cold.

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