Straw Dogs

Rod Lurie directs this disappointing, prettified version of Sam Peckinpah's Cornish horror.

 

2 stars

 

 

Straw Dogs - We're all going on a Summer Holiday

 

Director: Rod Lurie

Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard

 

Straw Dogs - It wasn't always bad

In an era where everything that can be remade will be remade, it's hardly surprising that Sam Peckinpah's infamous 1971 film, Straw Dogs would eventually be chosen for a 21st century make-over.

 

Transplanting the action from the original Cornish setting of Peckinpah's film, writer/director Rod Lurie instead chooses to place the story, somewhat predictably, in the American Deep South.

 

In this version, the lead characters are still David and Amy Sumner, a well-to-do couple who are returning to Amy's poor, rural hometown to renovate the family cottage. However, where in the Peckinpah film David was a nebbish, Jewish-American maths professor, in this iteration he's a good looking, quite sexy Hollywood screenwriter.

 

Embodied perfectly in the original by Dustin Hoffman at the absolute top of his game, this new version of David is played by Hollywood nearly man James Marsden. While a perfectly fine actor, Marsden is an odd choice to play – essentially – a critique of modern manhood seeing as he rather successfully played both a superhero and a romantic lead for Bryan Singer in his X-Men and Superman movies.

 

On the female side of the equation, Kate Bosworth is neat and tidy enough as Amy, but unlike Susan George in the original she lacks the wild, untamed sexuality that becomes such an intrinsic part of the movies dynamic. You also never believe that Bosworth comes from the South, even though the addition of her background as an actress who's shed her accent attempts to smooth over this inconsistency.

 

Straw Dogs - If I just peek through the spy hole I hope I don't see something scary

Even with that explanation in place there's just something too clean, clinical and cold about Bosworth to ever truly buy that she's just a good ol' girl underneath it all.

 

On the 'villainous' side, Amy's former high-school sweetheart, Charlie Venner, is played by the surprisingly well cast Alexander Skarsgard. Giving the one truly strong and appropriate performance in the film, he manages to convey a lot with a little and expresses a quite subtle brand of machismo that gives his scenes with Bosworth and Marsden a nice charge of menacing sexual tension.

 

Unfortunately, giving possibly the worst performance of his career (and yes, I have seen The Specialist) is James Woods as 'Coach' Tom Heddon. Mugging his way through the film at a pitch that suggests his only two settings are 'hammy' and 'very-hammy', Woods' drunken 'redneck' is an abomination.

 

It's a sad sight, but is again another example of just how blunt and off-point Lurie's take on the material is.

 

Unusually, the plot of this version of Straw Dogs is actually pretty much a carbon copy of the original picture.

 

However, as is modern Hollywood's want, the narrative is streamlined and ultimately stripped of many of the layers that make the original such a potent and disturbing piece of work.

 

Yes, the infamous double-rape scene does survive into this version, but even that is filleted of any subtext, ambiguity or any real pay-off further down the line.

 

Straw Dogs - Ah that's who's outside

The power of that original sequence is in how Peckinpah manages to walk a fine line between violence, eroticism, complicity and ultimately brutality. By contrast the double rape sequence in Lurie's film is just…a double rape sequence.

 

And that pretty much sums up the films shortcomings as, in a nutshell, this remake of Straw Dogs is ultimately a karaoke version of a much better and more hard-hitting film. Lurie and his team flirt with engaging with the material in a serious way, but ultimately bring nothing new to the table, instead opting to simply vulgarise and de-fang a classic of extreme cinema.

 

That film had serious bite. By comparison this one has barely started teething.

 

James Peaty

 

 

Click down there for the trailer. I wouldn't bother though:

 

 

Straw Dogs
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