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 was able to raise the question whether he was a coward and hypocritical or if he was just trying to keep to his brand of principle. It allowed the viewer to see the lines between cowardice, masculinity and violence, and why one resorts and responds with it.
Well, director/writer Rod Lurie’s 2011 update “Straw Dogs” is as good as it can be. It relocates the setting from England to Mississippi and brings forth different yet similar themes to what made the original such a fantasy revenge tale that asked some provocative questions. Altering the original script by Peckinpah and David Zelag, Lurie changes the lead male character (played by James Marsden, X-Men) from mathematician to screenwriter (this change works since the original made many wonder how a mathematician could get a wife like that, and it is supported by a credible back story) as David Sumner arrives in his wife Amy’s (Kate Bosworth) hometown. Her father had just passed on and the couple have decided to fix the damages to the barn while David writes a new script for a movie.
The work for the barn have been contracted by Amy’s ex-boyfriend back in high school, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood) and his band of handymen, David chose them since they appeared to be old friends of Amy‘s. Tensions begin to mount as the group seemed to know what it takes to make the situation more awkward and uncomfortable for the married couple than it already was. David isn’t that well-equipped or prepared to deal with such machismo, but soon, David and Amy find themselves in a very unpleasant dilemma and a violent home invasion…
There are quite a few puzzles present as we observe the business relationship between the couple and Charlie’s band, this serves some thoughtful reflection on the part of the viewer. In the trailer, we see Amy scantily clad in short shorts while jogging with the soundtrack “Going Down” as a visual stab in an attempt at humor. I mean, the rednecks leering at Amy was unapologetic and crude, but honestly, as David had discussed in the film, it remains an issue to be questioned by the viewer. It seemed to give the viewer room to buy into some elements as it becomes supported by several scenes. It expresses the possibility how some things can be seen differently by different observers, and how some folks should be mindful as to the manner they present themselves. I suppose, one needs to be more aware of their surroundings, and as David goes, “When in Rome…” and to not tempt the eye of temptation. There is also another thing that diverts from the original, and it makes one wonder whether the rape was known by David or not this time around. I cannot discuss this without spoiling the movie, so let us just say that the rape (as in the original) is one of the film’s gratuitous plot points, despite having a small hint of nudity.
Kate Bosworth seemed to be on a roll in this more mature role. Her portrayal of Amy is one filled with sexy and firm female strength. Amy is the kind of person who sees herself as independent and knows the limits of what she does. The rape scene in the original was one of that film’s notorious sequences and Lurie does his best to kind of give more depth to that scene. Lurie still leaves enough of that mixed signal, “no means yes” kind of thing, and it does make one wonder if it was indeed rape or consenting sex she had with Charlie, but it left me feeling disgusted and repulsed as the scene went further in a different way. Lurie did a good job in mixing up some emotions as he keys in the visceral impact of the rape on its narrative. The aftermath of the rape is one to be remembered as Bosworth expressed the confusing emotions of fear, confusion, and above all guilt over something that may have or not been her fault.
David as played by Marsden is a man who seemed to be trying to fit in, though deep inside, he really does not care for this way of life in the South. He is compelled to try to relate, but his beliefs and sometimes, even his subtlety in his self-superiority are mis-read by others; this I believe, Lurie wanted for us to feel to give some credibility to his tormentors. Marsden does do a decent job as a man almost at the end of his rope, and tries to stand up to the bullies who are in front of him. Skarsgard is usual cool self, and is surprisingly very convincing as the antagonist in the film. The subplot with James Woods’ “coach” character and the man with mental disability, Jeremy (Dominic Purcell) did feel a little out of place at times, but it did help define the David character in the resolution of the final act. I did however, want to point out that Amy’s sudden questions about David’s masculinity and supposed 'cowardice' felt out of place, and it felt very unclear. It felt that it came from left field, and it was never defined and established in the narrative properly.
“Straw Dogs” is a violent film, but it did try to not wallow in its violence. Though I have to admit it would be easy to see it as something rendered to merely titillate its viewer. I mean, the part that made the original thought-provoking and compelling as a revenge fantasy was missed at first glance, but in return, Lurie did do a screenplay to not merely question the male character, but also to ask questions about the married couple themselves. The stand off in the final act did fail in many ways, but it did succeed in some ways. It was a kind of ‘stacked up’ deck against David, and while it was easy to root for him, it wasn’t as intense as it should’ve been, but I don’t think Lurie intended for his remake to exceed the original in this manner.
“Straw Dogs” is as good as it could be for a remake, since the original wasn't that complex to begin with. Nope, it wasn’t a great movie and it does fail to expand on the original’s premise, and rather it simply redefined questions about the motivations behind each scene and perhaps add a different twist to it all. A lot of people will not buy into the whole Amy-David thing, but think about it this way; a woman does keep secrets at times, it just tried to instigate some irony that sometimes, things happen the way we never expected with the same result or did they? I’d like to know what viewers thought about the scene before Charlie said “Son of a bitch did have some man in him after all….” I know it seemed an obvious reaction, but I still wonder about that playing record…
Now is this remake unnecessary? Yes. Is this remake a bad movie? No.
Timid Recommendation. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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