The remakes are getting out of control.  Just recently, there was a press release stating that the 1991 Patrick Swayze classic Point Break was going to get remade – yes, you may heave your deep, disappointed sigh here.  Today’s remake is Straw Dogs (which I will refer to as SD2011 in this review), writer/director Rod Lurie’s almost-verbatim version of infamous director Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 film (referred to as SD1971) and its screenplay by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman.  The original was absolutely fine and shocking enough, with no need of another take on it.  Lurie doesn’t add much or reshape the original; instead, SD2011 takes its time putting the water in the pot, putting the pot on the stove, turning the heat to high and letting everything boil over.  Every character has some kind of weirdness or baggage attached to them, with nary a hero to be found.  There is no likable character to gain any kind of audience sympathy; even the victims are not exactly right.  So what’s one to think about a movie like this?

It’s important to consider the source material, which will explain quite a bit.  Both films were based on a novel titled The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams, but the 1971 version’s screenplay changed a lot of the material for dramatic purposes; it is from this version that SD2011 takes its every cue, seemingly eschewing Williams’ novel.  Without providing much of a context for any character in it, SD2011 rehashes David Zelag Goodman and Peckinpah’s screenplay almost word-for-word, which mismatches the modern era with every character.  The setting of SD1971 was during a time when women’s lib was starting to kick in, with men having a lot of trouble accepting a woman’s redefined societal roles.  It is within this context that SD2011 finally makes more sense; however, SD2011 seems to rely too much on the viewer having seen SD1971 beforehand.

Without having seen SD1971 before, the audience will witness a story about a married couple, David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth), as they temporarily move to Amy’s small Texas hometown for seclusion as David, a screenwriter, finishes his screenplay.  The question of “what makes a man” is still ever-present, even in a film set in current times, as David’s courage and will are tested: he sees the village idiot (Dominic Purcell) getting beaten, the town drunkard (James Woods) wreaking havoc in the local bar, and other occurrences which he observes with a detached-yet-shocked air.

Note: he observes.  He doesn’t do anything about anything until it’s too late and for the wrong reasons.  Most of the film centers on David’s progression from soft-handed tenderfoot to a man defending his castle using lethal measures; the incidents which spark each lesson speak volumes as to the town’s true character, which is seven shades of ugly.  Caught up in everything is Amy, whose oozing sexuality may seem completely par for the course in her everyday interactions with all and sundry, especially with her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd).  It is, instead, taken as a come-on or a tease by men with terrible designs on her and no respect for anyone.  She feels unapologetic for how she presents herself; when it all comes to a head, she is definitely not to blame, but we are made to feel like she is responsible for her circumstance.

SD1971‘s misogyny has translated well to this current incarnation, leaving a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers.  No one acts exactly like we want them to act, and that’s part of SD2011‘s charm and curse.  While that clear-cut line between good and evil is never absolutely necessary, it’s hard to nail down why SD2011 is so off-putting.  Maybe it’s because at one point or another, you find yourself rooting for every bad character in this whole mess, mostly because the victims are whiny, self-involved cowards who don’t know the first thing about taking care of one another.  Their marriage seems more like a playact than an actual union; they are party to their own undoing via some stupid thing they may have done, and the audience is left with no choice but to watch as madness unfolds.  David’s false-feeling manly bluster is tempered by the fact that he can’t take care of himself outside of his comfort zone; this is put forth in a worthy performance by James Marsden.  His boyish good looks and his big, often-fake smile lend David that extra naïveté that the character truly needs.

SD2011 is an ambiguous movie for ambiguous times.  The concepts of right and wrong are blurred and looked over in place of selfish need, which makes me think more and more that both versions of Straw Dogs were meant as social commentaries on personal gain.  At film’s end, I initially couldn’t think of a reason to recommend this film to anyone.  After thinking about it, I realized that there was a sick pleasure in watching sheltered idiots having to deal with forces greater than themselves.  The mood Rod Lurie creates is thick with anxiety and tension, while making the aforementioned pot bubble and violently boil over.


Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa

Special thanks to Jenn Carlson for late-night movie discussions, including this one.

1 Comment

  • Monica says:

    I really liked this review, and found myself agreeing with just about everything said, and well said! However, I have two comments:

    – I take issue with the usage of “the village idiot,” though I know it is a colloquial way of referring to someone who is mentally challenged. May I suggest “the developmentally abnormal townie..” (which makes the situation described clearer for someone who has not seen the film).
    – I also take issue with the statement that Amy is not to blame and that we are mislead to believe that she brought it on to herself. My take is that she WAS to blame and that she did bring it on to herself. Recall the scene when she opens the second floor window and intentionally undresses herself for the construction crew, and recall all the times that she is playing games, such as serving cold beers to the guys (after the cat was hung), and honestly, the jogging outfit was completely inappropriate for someone who knows there is a construction crew working at her home (it may be average for someone jogging on campus or in a big city). Amy was consistently provocative and eerily clueless. It didn’t help that she did not seem to have a very close relationship with her husband.

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