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Straw Dogs - A Remake Of Sam Peckinpah's Classic

Director Rod Lurie's 2011 remake of the original film of the same name.

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A Writer Unleashes His Superiority Complex

  • Sep 17, 2011
Rating:
+4
Star Rating:


I described Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 version of Straw Dogs as visceral, disturbing, and unpleasant, and without a doubt, those same qualities apply to Rod Lurie’s 2011 remake. What surprises me is that this new version is far more agreeable, in large part because, while the basic story is exactly the same, the subtexts have been altered in such a way that they’re far more compelling. The original was essentially an extended metaphor for male chauvinism, the idea that what a man says goes; the controversial violent climax and the ambiguous rape scene had misogynistic undertones I simply didn’t approve of. The new film broadens the scope a bit, making it not about gender roles but about social status. Many passages of dialogue are taken almost verbatim from the original screenplay, and yet the shift in focus allows the words to take on new meaning. The result is a film that’s endlessly fascinating and indisputably frightening.
 
Adapted from Gordon Williams’ novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, the film changes the location from the English countryside to the American Deep South, specifically the town of Blackwater, Mississippi. This would be the hometown of an actress named Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth), who has just returned with her husband, David (James Marsden), a Hollywood screenwriter. He’s looking forward to the peace and quiet so that he can finish his latest work, a World War II drama about the Battle of Stalingrad. They move into the estate once owned by Amy’s father; it’s quaint, in a historical kind of way, but the adjacent garage has fallen into disrepair. Hired to fix the roof are four beer-drinking, loud-mouthed locals, one of whom is Amy’s ex, Charlie Venner (Alexander Skarsgård).

                                              
                                                
The tension between David and Charlie builds slowly but surely, first with subtle glances and phrases. This, in turn, leads to a building of tension between David and Amy. The situation gains momentum when the Sumners’ cat is found strangled and hanging from the light switch in their bedroom closet. Surely the culprit was Charlie or one of his cronies. The issue is that David and Amy have very different ideas about how to find out; David, basically a coward, tries to befriend them with only the hope that one of them will confess, while Amy enters the room with a bowl of milk, calling for the cat. Unlike the original film, their fighting does not boil down to assigned roles in a domestic partnership – or, more accurately, Amy’s role as a housewife. This change in character is crucial, especially during the rape scene. No, it isn’t easy to watch. But I can assure you that this time, there’s no doubt that she means no when she says it.
 
What it actually does boil down to is a class conflict. David is a Harvard graduate, a history buff, in command of the English language, an atheist, and a Hollywood success story. He never directly states it, but it’s clear he believes he’s superior to the people of Blackwater – conservative, God-fearing, football-watching, blue-collar stereotypes, some of whom may or may not have advanced as far as high school. It’s not that he wants Amy to be a submissive housewife, as was the case in the original film; it’s that he wants her to turn her back on her Southern roots, to be more “sophisticated.” If she had the fortitude to move to Hollywood and make a name for herself, if she could actually fall in love with an educated man like David, then she’s obviously better than the locals. He believes Charlie and his boys wouldn’t stare at her so lecherously if she would just wear a bra while jogging. In other words, she would be left alone if she classed herself up a bit.

                                               
                                                
As in the original film, all leads to a brutal, bloody confrontation, David having barricaded himself in his home from Charlie, his boys, and the town drunk and high school football coach, Tom Heddon (James Woods). David has custody of a mentally challenged man named Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), who has a history of sexual deviance – pedophilia, in all likelihood – and has been seen in the company of Tom’s flirtatious teenage daughter, Janice (Willa Holland). I will not reveal how he came to be in David’s house. I will say that his protection of Jeremy has absolutely nothing to do with saving his life; it has everything to do with proving that, by virtue of his ability to take control, he’s the better man.
 
But is he really? “I will not allow violence against this house,” he says to Amy, which is admirable ... except for the fact that he “prevents” it by unleashing a primal rage that borders on the homicidal. In truth, he could have prevented it by not involving himself with Jeremy, with whom he had no personal connection. What I appreciated about the final sequence was that it wasn’t about trying to prove his wife wrong, as was the case in Peckinpah’s film; it was about social stature, the egotistical belief that some people are innately inferior to others. Marsden’s final line of dialogue reflects this attitude. It was spoken in the original film, but the context has been revised, and it’s now far more chilling than when it was delivered by Dustin Hoffman. What we ultimately learn from Straw Dogs, apart from the title’s meaning, is that some people are capable of the unthinkable, even if they don’t know that they are.

                                                   

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February 18, 2012
Rare remake. Good flick. Thanks for the review.
February 18, 2012
You're welcome. One of the things you will notice about me is that I don't dismiss remakes simply for being remakes. Some people, I believe, are needlessly hung up on this issue. You will also notice that I'm not afraid to say when I think a remake is better than the original. That hasn't made me popular in some circles, but there you have it.
 
September 28, 2011
It's rare to find a remake that does the original justice. This sounds like it comes pretty darn close. Thanks for sharing!
 
September 18, 2011
I liked this one too. I rated it a strong 3.5/5 and I am pondering if I should round it up. I liked the set ups but I have to say it felt a little unnecessary. The subplot with Dominic Purcell was pretty useful in bringinng David's resolve. Hm, that is an interesting take to his character, I thought Wood's character just didn't like him 'coz he was just mentally challenged....
September 18, 2011
What about the first scene in the bar, when Tom yelled at the sheriff and at Jeremy's brother for not having him locked up? And then there are all the moments Jeremy insisted that Janice was his girlfriend, despite the fact that she's only a teenager. From my perspective, it could not have been any clearer.

As for it seeming unnecessary, I've used that word a lot in my movie reviews, but I think I have to back off on it. The truth is, there rarely is any such thing as a necessary movie, not even when they're making valid points or are highly entertaining. Regardless of whether or not it needed to be made, Straw Dogs was for me very absorbing, in large part because of the way it developed Marsden's character. I actually liked this version a lot more than the original, which I felt had misogynistic undertones and was sending the wrong message.
September 18, 2011
That is a good catch and comment. It is amazing how different reviewers can draw different interpretations from a scene. I thought while there was something indeed amiss, coach was just being an ass. Yeah, I am with you. I like this one quite a bit, though the script did have some rough spots. I liked the way it redefined some questions and added a different flavor to the original. What do you think? I thought David had an idea about Amy and Charlie since he found that record...
September 18, 2011
I think David had an idea about Charlie and Amy long before he found the record. It was, in fact, during the first bar scene; David goes to get a beer and notices Charlie and Amy sitting together, inappropriately close. As the film progresses, we learn that he believes he's better than Charlie -- and all the people of Blackwater -- simply because he's a wealthy, educated man. He also believes that, at this point in her life, Amy should be well out of Charlie's league.
September 18, 2011
I meant that David did have a feeling why they left him stranded was that Charlie went to see Amy. Not sure if he thought they did have sex or not, but him playing that record could've been an indication that he knew Amy and Charlie had a fling, even though Amy didn't tell him exactly what happened....
 
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More Straw Dogs (2011 remake) reviews
review by . September 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Non-Violent Timidity Vs. Brutish Machismo....
Remakes and re-issues seem to be all the rage these days; and as I have stated before, sometimes they can be necessary and they can be a way to update a story for more modern audiences. It is yet to be argued that the original “Straw Dogs” needed a remake, since it is another one of those movies which was a product of its generation. The direction by Sam Peckinpah was brilliantly simple and Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of a passive, non-violent character was so effective that it …
review by . February 13, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" was released in 1971 and was immediately misjudged, seemingly at the very moment of its arrival. It sent movie-goers either running for the hills - never to look back again - or scratching their chins in an attempt to find some sort of intellectual meaning for what they had just witnessed. The film itself was the story of a mathematician and his wife who moves back to the latter's hometown - a small, quiet little town in England …
review by . September 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Straw Dogs' 'Two Jews On Film' Have Different Takes On This Violent Remake (Video()
By Joan Alperin Schwartz      You are a Hollywood screenwriter.  You have a hot wife and a hot Jag.  You move to your wife's hometown in the Deep South after her father's death.  It's filled with God fearing, Bambi killing, football addicted, good ole Southern boys.  Do you really think you'll live happily ever after?      David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) …
Quick Tip by . December 22, 2011
posted in MovieSucktastic
A well done yet still completely unnecessary remake of the Peckinpah classic, its only major flaw is the thematic shift from man's internal struggle between civilized man and his predominantly savage nature to the more simplistic elements of class warfare.
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #6
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Director: Rod Lurie
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Release Date: 16 September 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Rod Lurie, David Zelag Goodman
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