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A 1971 film from director Sam Peckinpah

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Dog Days.

  • Dec 24, 2011
Rating:
+5
**** out of ****

Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" is a stirring, often times riveting thriller; a film about violence, emotional destruction, social discrimination, and the limits of man. We've all seen movies like this for sure; there have been as many copycats as there have been predecessors. But who can put much blame on a filmmaker for having a keen eye for the violent acts committed in this world; the dark, dark side of humanity; and the sins of the human spirit. Peckinpah is intelligent in the way he explores these themes, and his approach is kind of scholarly, in a way. There are two sides when it comes to "Straw Dogs" and criticism; the negative side calls it needless, hypocritical exploitation - with the other claiming it to be a cinematic landmark that covers distressing topics with the largest amount of respect that a single visionary artist could possibly contain. Guess which side I'm on?

Before watching the film, I had never quite noticed just how much I love films set in villages that tend to carry a disturbing aura with them. One of my favorite films is "The Wicker Man"; a thriller often mistaken for a horror movie, but nonetheless I think it's a masterpiece of both genres, unless it decides to choose one over the other. I thought it was such a good movie that it could not possibly choose just one genre; it shares elements of those two and many others - my favorite kind of movie. "Straw Dogs" is a film done in that tradition; with tension and build-up that certainly matches the said personal favorite in quality and memorability. Perhaps it also helps that Peckinpah's film is - much like "The Wicker Man" - set in a village where everything from the homes to their inhabitants don't seem terribly "right".

English mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife Amy (Susan George) have just moved back to the latter's hometown. They settle for an old farmhouse; which needs repairing, and the local townsfolk are more than happy to oblige, or so it seems. While the workers are trying their hardest to please; the relationship of the two lovers seems to be slowly deteriorating. There are differing viewpoints on the relationship itself from both partners; David believes that women should fulfill their respective and expected roles in a romantic partnership, while Amy feels the same about men.

However, these disagreements are the least of their problems. The men working on fixing the couple's farmhouse are forever the source of many problems to come. They make fun of David behind his back and sometimes when he's present; they ogle Amy's beauty; and they are inconsistent in their labor. However, David proves to be a man of strong-will; and he tries to get along with the members of the community that will accept him for the Englishman that he is; among those who do are the town Major (T.P. McKenna) and the reverend.

We now come to the most challenging bit of this review; since this is a write-up of a controversial film that was widely talked about for one scene in particular (amidst the brutal, bloody violence that comes along in due time). The scene which I speak of is, yes, the infamous rape scene. One afternoon, the workers invite David to go hunting with them somewhere in a forest no too far from home; in fact, he could very well walk to the house from there. In a tragic turn of events, it is revealed that the men have tricked David; and they escape to his home, where two of them savagely rape Amy. It's a prolonged, disturbing, graphic scene; which is easily why it is still loathed to this day; and with great passion. There are divided opinions when it comes to the scene; there's an instance where Amy almost begins to invite the rape to go on for even longer; although my interpretation of her actions are simple - she was looking for an easy escape. She wanted the horror to end.

The final act also attracted much attention for its violent content. It involves the village outcast (David Warner) - shunned for his implied pedophilia and arrogance. He leaves a church dinner-and-celebration early; and brings with him a young beauty. Her father discovers this and brings the workers with him to retrieve her and bring the outcast to justice; but David and Amy get to him first and agree to hide the poor bastard in their home until all this clears up. Unfortunately, it does not, and the villagers will stop at nothing to get their hands on the guy. They are driven by revenge; David is driven by his good nature to protect a man who is, morally, sort of innocent. This is a long scene; and it's absolutely essential to the film. You could say that, in a sense, it is the heart and soul of "Straw Dogs". It completes Peckinpah's artistic vision.

Hoffman is absolutely brilliant as a man who simply does not want any trouble; and those who portray any of the local hooligans are well-deserving of considerable praise as well. The performances are, all around, spectacular; although I think it's the direction that takes center stage. Among other things, I was intoxicated by the flawless camera placement, the moody locations (Edgar Wright's hilarious "Hot Fuzz" was shot around the same parts and contains some clever in-references to this film), and of course, the statements that the film makes on the nature of violence. It's a deep, insightful piece of cinema. I enjoyed the way in which Peckinpah gave my imagination a much-needed workout with his slow-building tension; which is, in theory, some of the best I've seen in any thriller. Hey, that's what I call greatness; I can't say that the film is for everyone, but if you find yourself seldom inspired by today's attempts at suspense and thematic brilliance; here is a movie that will, for better or worse, shake you until you're dizzy - minus or plus the vomit.

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More Straw Dogs reviews
review by . May 10, 2009
How far will a man go to protect what's his?
Straw Dogs (1971) was a film that Sam Peckinpah directed during the early seventies. He adapted the screenplay from the thriller novel "The Siege at Trencher's Farm). Dustin Hoffman stars as David Sumner, a mild mannered American Mathematician who moves to the English countryside with his wife Amy (Susan George). David has resettled to not only work on his book but to get away from the violence and turmoil that's going on in the "States". But the small town also happens to …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
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It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Wiki

A controversial film from director Sam Peckinpah.  Starring Dustin Hoffman as Susan George. Based upon the novel "The Siege at Trencher's Farm."  David Warner co-stars as well but is uncredited in the film.
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Details

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Action, Thriller, Adventure
Release Date: December 29, 1971
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Sam Peckinpah
Runtime: 118 minutes
Studio: ABC Pictures
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