Straw Dogs (2011)
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Written by: David Zelag Goodman, Gordon Williams, Rod Lurie, Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Dominic Purcell, James Marsden, James Woods, Kate Bosworth
RUNNING TIME:110 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Sony Pictures
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
David Sumner, a movie scriptwriter working on a film about the battle of Stalingrad during World War 2, travels with his wife Amy to stay in her hometown Blackwater in Mississipi, where the expected peace and quiet would be perfect for him to do his work. As soon as they set foot in the town there is tension – a drunk Tom ‘Coach’ Heddon causes trouble at the bar, Amy’s ex Charlie Venner makes it clear he still wants Amy, especially as their relationship was never consummated, and Jeremy Niles, who has learning disabilities, is threatened and told not to talk to girls. David hires Charlie and his mates to fix his roof, but they seem to take their time and Amy is feeling more and more neglected. Then David finds their cat dead, hanging in the closet, but refuses to confront Charlie and his companions. The following day, they invite David out hunting with them, perfect for Charlie to pay Amy a visit……..
I wonder if the decision to make this movie went something like this?
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave, The Hills Have Eyes…we are running out of controversial 70s movies to remake”.
“Well there’s Straw Dogs”.
“O yes, the one with the controversial rape scene. I’ve heard it’s a much more complex and difficult movie than the others, it’s full of ambiguities and has a powerful message about humans still being animals deep down, amongst other things”.
“Well we don’t want any of that. What I suggest we do, is copy the original movie almost exactly, but totally gut it of all the things you mention. Folks don’t want to think when enjoying violence on screen”.
“But wasn’t it based on a book? As the original film took great liberties with it, why not make this version closer to it”.
“Don’t be silly, people don’t read now. And as for the controversial rape, make it uncontroversial. Rape is just rape ay”?
There have been worse remakes than Straw Dogs, even this year [a certain one about a barbarian comes to mind!], but none that has made me so angry. I often moan about the endless remakes and lack of originality in current cinema, but I don’t get too het up about it, because every now and again I know something like Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Tree Of Life will come along and get me all excited and all positive about modern movies again. After watching Rod Lurie’s version of Straw Dogs, I actually felt really worried, and sadly writing this review brings those feelings back. I remember reading that Lurie, who both wrote and directed this travesty, decided to remake Straw Dogs because they were going to do it anyway. This immediately smacks of someone with no artistic integrity whatsoever, so I should have known how horrible this movie would be!
So what we have here is in many ways a carbon copy of the original movie, with many scenes and even dialogue the same, and, most unforgivably, almost exact copies of some of Sam Peckinpah’s montages. For example, when Amy has flashbacks to her rape, the shots are mostly the same! Now I haven’t seen any other films that Lurie [whose political thriller The Contender is admired by many] has been responsible for, but on the evidence of this particular film, he is a talentless hack with no real style of this own. However, it’s his dreadful ‘dumbing down’ of Peckinpah’s film that is so unforgivable, and I should have realised this when he talked about how, instead of his film having a protagonist who finds the animal in himself, as in the original, he has a hero who finds the man inside himself. The uneasy aspects to David’s character are also mostly gone, and everything is made obvious and explicit. When David is taken out hunting, he is left alone, and in the original you have this wonderful moment where he sits there with his gun, feeling some kind of power for the first time. In the remake, he is left alone but hunts and kills a deer [which of course is a crappy looking CG creation]. Pretty much all the ambiguities in the story – you know, the bits where you have to work things out for yourself or just guess – are removed. A good example is that in the original, you’re not sure whether you are supposed to like the mentally challenged Niles who David gives shelter to, and also you wonder why David is bothering with this person. In the remake, you like him, and feel straight away that David is doing the right thing.
Of course there was no way they could have had Amy be seen to maybe enjoy being raped, so we just have a conventional rape scene, and they are so common these days one almost feels blasé about the sequence, as offensive as that may sound. Amy is made less of a bimbo and a tease, but bizarrely there is still the scene where she undresses in the window where workmen can see her. Inconsistency is rife. Here, David confronts the workmen almost immediately when they play music loudly, but later on won’t mention to them that his cat has been found dead even though he thinks they may have been responsible. The cliched Mississippi setting, full of whisky-drinking ‘good old boys’ and ‘white trash’, is far less interesting than the original’s Cornwall locale because you expect trouble straight away. It also allows for a few digs at Christianity, with all the locals church goers and possibly encouraged by sermons to be the way they are. Now I am not at all religious, but I am sick of the way Christians are treated in movies at the moment while most other religions are treated with respect.
Not everyone will have seen the 1971 version of course, so how is this movie on its own? Well, it’s okay I suppose. At least Lurie resisted the urge to throw in pointless action scenes, but shorn of most of the original film’s quirks, this effort is just a bit dull. The violent climax, which adds the odd extra gory touch Peckinpah didn’t think of, will probably satisfy some who want to see a bit of blood and guts. James Marsden isn’t bad in the lead, though of course his character lacks the depths of the one Dustin Hoffmann played. Kate Bosworth fares okay too, and James Woods is possibly even more menacing than usual as the violent, alcoholic ‘Coach’. Larry Groupe’s score is quite dramatic though lacking entirely the originality of Jerry Fielding’s work on the original. Taken on its own, I suppose the film isn’t too bad. It is a total insult to its inspiration though. Interestingly it has been a bit of a box office failure, and it does seem that less and less people are going to see all these remakes, with Fright Night and The Thing both flopping for a start. Perhaps this is making the studios listen. You never know.
The 2011 Straw Dogs includes a bit of dialogue where someone explains what Straw Dogs actually are. The original doesn’t bother, assuming that if you don’t know, you’ll probably find out. That, in a nutshell, tells you need to know about the remake. I personally hated every frame of this misbegotten waste of time that should not have been made, and intensely dislike the fact that it’s very competently made, meaning that so I can’t quite give it as low a rating as I want to, such as one out of ten!
[pt-filmtitle]Straw Dogs 2011[/pt-filmtitle]