Search this Topic:
Sep 13 11 1:46 PM
Remake of Sam Peckinpah's controversial original retains the sensational violence but loses character depth and ambiguity.
Friday, Sept. 16 (Screen Gems)
James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell
Taken on its own terms as a nasty tale of how a bunch of rough rednecks pester and brutalize a nice city couple until the latter summon up the grit to turn the tables on them, Straw Dogs amounts to a raw slab of red meat to tempt and probably satisfy the hoi polloi. But to anyone who's seen Sam Peckinpah's provocative and unsettling 1971 original, Rod Lurie's redo adds nothing and subtracts nuance and ambiguity from what was one of the more controversial films of an already tumultuous period. Screen Gems should be able to exploit the story's violence and inherent blood-boiling elements to good immediate returns in wide release.
Moving the action from the West of England to America's Deep South instantly produces the sought-after hotbed of conflict for a good-looking Hollywood screenwriter and his sexy blond actress wife when they roll into the aptly named Blackwater, Miss., in their cherry silver '67 Jaguar XKE to take up extended residence while he writes a script about the siege of Stalingrad.
The writer, David (James Marsden), does wonders for his status with the local good ol' boys by showing up at the local bar wearing a Harvard lacrosse t-shirt, while Amy (Kate Bosworth), who was born and bred in these parts, is instantly hit on by rangy former flame Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), ringleader of the town yahoos, who doesn't consider her married status as an excuse not to pick up where they left off years ago.
Aside from the changes in settings and professions (Dustin Hoffman played a mathematician in the original, while Susan George's wife was, well, a wife), Lurie has deviated little from the script by David Zelag Goodman and Peckinipah, itself based on a novel by Gordon Williams. Fundamentally, it's a study of how far passivism can be pushed, a collision between an aggressive force and a more pliant one that can be roused to a defense only when survival is genuinely threatened. Especially because the central motivating incident is the rape of the wife, this is a story designed to stoke fires and awaken basic instincts in both the characters and the audience. But whereas Peckinpah managed not only to raise hackles but to get under the skin, Lurie manages only the former, which reduces the material to the level of sensation-mongering.
Settling into a lovely riverside farmhouse belonging to Amy's family, the affable David tries to get down to work while Amy takes a break from her TV career, which makes her the envy of her old local girlfriends. Providing a major distraction, however, is the daily presence of Charlie and his boys, hired to fix up the dilapidated barn on the property. Chummy on the surface and mock-respectfully addressing David as “sir,” Charlie and his crew nonetheless play their little games to test the limits, blasting loud music, entering the house for beer whenever they feel like, knocking off early, hanging a pet cat in a closet and leering at Amy when she jogs around in scanties. When her husband warns her about the effect her appearance has on the horndogs, she reprovingly asks, “Are you saying I'm asking for this?”
Peckinpah's film devoted a good deal more time to domestic scenes between the husband and wife, revealing ways in which they were not quite in synch and certain dissatisfactions on her part, nothing overtly spelled out but enough to quietly suggest she might have reason to recall her old boyfriend from time to time. This feeds into her reactions when her former beau rapes her, a sequence that set off a furor at the time for its intimations, not that she asked for it but that, once it was happening, she was not altogether unresponsive.
There's little such ambiguity this time around when Charlie comes calling after the boys have deliberately lured David out on a hunting expedition to put his manhood to the test. “You're a coward,” Amy accuses her husband in the aftermath. “No, I'm not,” he replies, before having to prove it by defending their house against an armed nocturnal assault by the liquored-up mob, joined now by the hot-headed local football coach (James Woods), whose wayward teenage daughter has been assaulted by the village idiot the couple is protecting.
Lurie has recycled the most memorably gruesome details of Peckinpah's staging of the domestic battle-to-the-death, including the shotgun blast to the foot and the fearsome bear trap. But while the visceral impact of the improvised combat remains and will have the intended effect on viewers, most of whom will not have seen the original, the way the action has been rushed and amplified makes it seem less realistic, goosed up in an artificial movie way. The coach's contribution to the melee, particularly as concerns his intervention with the local sheriff (practically the only black character on view), is especially unconvincing. All told, Lurie tries way too hard to outdo Peckinpah with his siege and, not surprisingly, falls way short.
Marsden is entirely affable as a well-intentioned guy whose wife has perhaps not given him fair warning for what he may be in for on her home turf. For the film to have had any dimension other than as a home invasion shocker, however, Bosworth's Kate would have needed layers of subtext; until she questions his bravery, there's no indication she finds him anything less than a good guy and husband, and there are no questions raised about the state of their marriage, any lingering feelings she might have for Charlie and so forth. The central relationship has no depth and Bosworth comes off as rather hard, certainly compared to Susan George in the original, who was wonderfully changeable of mood and temperature; indeed, she was the heart of the film, notwithstanding Hoffman's admirable summoning of hitherto untested courage.
Towering over his costars, TV hearththrob Skarsgard makes for a formidable antagonist, while Woods has no trouble conjuring up the small town's reigning whackjob. Louisiana locations are suitably atmospheric, although the mismatching of fog and clear skies during David's disorienting hunting expedition is sloppy in the extreme.
ohvaI have tons of friends. They're just all online.
Sep 13 11 2:41 PM
Alexander Skarsgard stars in Screen Gems' remake of 'Straw Dogs.'
Purportedly deriving as much inspiration from Gordon Williams' source novel as from Peckinpah's film, this remake hews to the overall developments of the original film extremely faithfully. The most obvious changes are largely cosmetic -- Corwall, England, is replaced by Blackwater, Mississippi; bagpipe music is replaced with zydeco; the order and manner of deaths in the final sequence is shuffled around somewhat; and nebbishy protag David (James Marsden) has gone from math professor to Hollywood scribe composing a screenplay about the siege of Stalingrad. (Lurie may have intended this as a sly rebuke to critic Pauline Kael, who famously called the original "a fascist work of art," but without that metatextual reference point, it simply reads as foreshadowing applied with a trowel.)
None of these changes proves particularly detrimental. What is detrimental, however, are the more subtle modifications, which sand down the rougher edges of the original. The protagonists have become more likable and empowered, motivations have become more cut and dried, and references to underlying political schisms are downplayed. This may make things more philosophically palatable to contemporary auds, but "Straw Dogs" isn't a film that was ever meant to be palatable. Absent Bloody Sam's provocations and inimitable style, the film becomes merely an abrasive potboiler, still viscerally unpleasant but no longer meaningfully so.
Marsden is given a thankless task replacing Dustin Hoffman in the lead role, and though he only skims the depth Hoffman brought to the part, he puts in a credible performance all the same. Arriving in deep Dixie in his vintage Jaguar with actress wife and Blackwater native Amy (Kate Bosworth) at his side, he hopes to spend some time writing at Amy's empty ancestral home. Yet boasting a Hollywood-by-Hyannis Port fashion sense and a goofy if prickly demeanor, David is rather ill suited for life in the rural South.
Playing the same fish-out-of-water themes in the original pic, it's not long before David runs afoul of the natives in the local pub by trying to buy beer with a debit card and turning down the fried pickles. Most irked by the interloper's arrival is Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), an outwardly polite good-ol'-boy and Amy's high school paramour. In a condescendingly friendly gesture, David hires Charlie and his gang of chuckleheaded cretins to repair a barn damaged by Hurricane Katrina, which they do in increasingly short shifts while blasting Southern rock and getting a bit too comfortable on David's property.
Lingering sparks between Charlie and Amy are bubbling under all the while, and the yee-haws openly ogle her as she jogs braless around the property. Meanwhile, the town's resident alcoholic and former football coach, Tom Hedden (James Woods), suspects a mentally challenged man with a shadowy past (Dominic Purcell) of getting too intimate with his flirtatious 15-year-old daughter (Willa Holland).
To his credit, Lurie is in no rush to bring these tensions to a head, but he never manages to lead them credibly from quiet unease to the extreme brutality that follows. David's inaction in the face of increasingly serious thuggery is more reminiscent of "The Big Lebowski" than "Hamlet," and while he's clearly uncomfortable in these new surroundings, he never seems as essentially foreign a presence as Hoffman's ivory-tower Yank did in Cornwall. Lurie also never bothers to broach the red state/blue state divide that seems like fertile ground.
The climactic violence, while filling entire frames with blood, will certainly not cause as much of a stir as its '70s counterpart did. (One character even references the "Saw" franchise, underscoring how permissive the standards of onscreen carnage have become in the last four decades.) This film's version of Amy's rape, a sequence in the original still fiercely debated by cineastes and feminists, remains immensely uncomfortable, despite the dicey gender politics of the original having been excised. Yet the new variation it introduces, which compromises the narrative consistency of Skarsgard's Charlie, makes little sense.
Nonetheless, Skarsgard remains the film's standout performer, limning the only character to have been significantly deepened from the original. The hulking Swede nails his Southern accent without overdoing it, and his performance implies a depth and internal logic to Charlie's actions that the film doesn't necessarily grasp.
To a lesser degree, that's true of everyone here. Being a modern couple, David and Amy discuss their marital troubles openly, though they rarely advance beyond couples' therapy lingo. David explains the Taoist parable from which the film takes its title, excusing redneck resentment as a residue of failed football careers -- a bit of audience hand-holding the film shouldn't need. In these cases, Lurie has introduced a brew of additional motivations to characters who could have been simple archetypes, but in fleshing them out, he only spotlights the narrative inconsistencies in their decisions.
The film's tech specs are professional if sometimes workmanlike, and lenser Alik Sakharov does well to capture the humid browns and oranges of the Louisiana filming location. A badly CGI'ed deer sparked some guffaws in the screening attended, but the stuntwork and editing in the final battle is solid. Larry Groupe's score can sometimes come on a bit strong, though his primary mode of softly drifting swells of strings undercut by creepy dissonance is smart.http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946064/
Sep 13 11 2:43 PM
Sep 15 11 11:51 AM
Dread Central Review--OUCH http://www.dreadcentral.com/reviews/straw-dogs-2011
I know there's been a lot of online hate towards the Straw Dogs remake because it's a retread of one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time but personally, I think that's a rather unfair attack. After all, the new Straw Dogs flick, which stars James Marsden, Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgard, does a bang up job of sucking all on its own without even having to compare the new movie to its flawless and timeless source material.
If you've seen the original Straw Dogs by legendary filmmaker Sam Peckinpah, then you know exactly what kind of story to expect in this movie (this pretty much remakes the 1971 original beat for beat, with the only creative leaps taken being huge misfires causing major plot holes). I mean, if you're going to have the gumption enough to remake a classic film like this, then you better have something pretty spectacular tucked up your sleeve to wow audiences with the remake, making it a worthwhile venture. Sadly, there's absolutely nothing worthwhile going on here at all.
In Straw Dogs we meet young married couple Amy (Bosworth) and David (Marsden) Sumner who are driving cross-country from Hollywood to Mississippi stay at Amy's family farm back in the small town the up-and-coming actress hails from originally. With her moving on from her small-town roots and becoming a famous actress who returns with an emasculated "Hollywood-type" of a husband on her arm, Amy's return stirs up a whole heap of a mess right off the bat.
We find out that when Amy skipped town for California, she left behind her hottie boyfriend- the town's alpha male Charlie (Skargard) who wants right back into the former cheerleader's pants as soon as he catches a whiff of her perfume in the air. In a good-natured gesture to try and make friendly with the locals, nice-guy David hires Charlie and his crew to work on a damaged barn on Amy's family property but all the guys end up doing is using the income opportunity as a chance to pick on the cowardly David, ogle Amy (who apparently is allergic to bras) and act like truly stereotypical rednecks.
From there, things escalate - Amy and David are continuously pushed to the breaking point by the local bullies' actions time and time again but neither wants to leave their home. Then, Amy's raped (but never tells her husband) by former flame Charlie and one of his cohorts after they leave David stranded in the middle of the woods during a hunting trip gone awry. One night, David and Amy take in a local retarded man named Jeremy (Dominic Purcell) who's suspected of killing the teenage daughter of football coach and town hero Tom Heddon (Woods) after they accidentally hit him when he stumbled in front of their car, Heddon rounds up Charlie and his gang to head out to the farm to retrieve Jeremy and so they can enforce some 'local justice' on him.
What happens then is that David gets pushed to the brink when it's apparent the men outside will stop at nothing to get Jeremy out of his house, so he grows a pear and fights back, ultimately becoming an alpha male himself.
As psychological thrillers go, Straw Dogs is about as mediocre as they come. Every moment of tension that the film is trying to build towards in the third act blatantly slaps you right upside your head during the first and second acts. Writer and Director Lurie adds absolutely nothing here to make Straw Dogs even attempt to be its own movie and any efforts it may have made to try and capture the essence of Peckinpah's original fails triumphantly.
Even the semi-talented cast in Straw Dogs seemed bored with the material they were given to work with, which was a shame because I thought I'd have at least some traces of an Eric Northman-esque type villain to enjoy in the movie. Unfortunately, Skarsgard isn't nearly as charismatic here as he is in "True Blood" and never quite gets a chance to define his character at all in the film. Bosworth is just terrible from start to finish (Lurie really made her character pouty and passive aggressive towards everyone around her) and Marsden, who I generally like, just never quite won me over with his performance as David.
Everyone in the film is written as just truly unlikeable characters so by the movie's climax, it's nearly impossible to care who is left standing at the end.
One cool thing to note is that right before Straw Dogs screened, we were treated to an extended preview of David Fincher's upcoming thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which featured about eight minutes of the flick and gave the audience a better look at what we can expect when the movie hits theaters on December 21, 2011.
Knowing very little about the source material, I must say that this is now one of my most anticipated movies in the coming months. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgaard all looked great in the footage, which roared along at a breakneck pace to a soundtrack provided by Oscar-winner Trent Reznor, the NIN frontman who won an Academy Award earlier this year for his work on Fincher's The Social Network.
Extended previews for other movies aside, the bottom line here is that Straw Dogs is definitely worth skipping in theaters and frankly, was never a remake that needed to happen in the first place. Just keep your money, rent the original from Netflix and thank me later for saving you a few bucks and 110 minutes of your time!
Sep 15 11 12:13 PM
Been seeking out a positive review:http://blog.mysanantonio.com/weekender/2011/09/movie-notes-ebert-rethinks-straw-dogs/Movie notes: Ebert rethinks ‘Straw Dogs’
Roger Ebert has always been a fan of Sam Peckinpah, the hard-nosed, no-nonsense (and alcoholic) filmmaker who died in 1984 at age 59. Two Peckinpah films, “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and “Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974), made his Great Movies list.
"Straw Dogs" director Sam Peckinpah, on the set of his 1977 film "Cross of Iron." (Getty Images)
And it was even more of a surprise to see a three-star review of the remake, which comes out tomorrow.
Ebert doesn’t have a problem with violence, per se; he praised the violence in “The Wild Bunch” as being “essentially unselective,” which is unsual for a Western (mostly bad guys got killed in mainstream Westerns of the day). But he wrote that the violence in “Straw Dogs,” in which an American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife (Susan George) are menaced and finally attacked by local hooligans in an English town, as having crossed the line.
“The most offensive thing about the movie is its hypocrisy; it is totally committed to the pornography of violence, but lays on the moral outrage with a shovel,” he wrote back then. “The perfect criticism of ‘Straw Dogs’ already has been made. It is ‘The Wild Bunch.’ ”
So how does he explain liking the Rod Lurie-directed remake, which moves the setting to the American South but keeps pretty much everything else the same?
“Since Rod Lurie … cannot be accused of having softened the material, my own feelings must have changed.”
He’s obviously strugging to remember exactly why he felt the way he did 40 years ago. ”After the first movie, I must have been disturbed by what kinds of acts the hero found himself capable of. After this one, perhaps I was relieved? Fantasy is one of the things we seek in the movies. Whatever. Rod Lurie has made a first-rate film of psychological warfare.
“And yes, I thought it was better than Peckinpah’s.”
For a remake, that’s got to be a first.
Sep 15 11 12:27 PM
The new "Straw Dogs," a remake of director Sam Peckinpah's controversial 1971 classic, is an artful provocation, a meditation on masculinity and societal mores in the guise of an explosive thriller.
Writer-director Rod Lurie has kept the original plot virtually intact, but what makes the two films feel radically different is tone. Where Peckinpah was borderline nihilistic, Lurie is unabashedly humanist, simultaneously celebrating and mourning the primal savagery we all harbor within us.
On paper, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth seem like odd substitutes for Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, stars of the original "Dogs." These young actors are best known for their work in comic-book movies and comedies, but their casting turns out to be a stroke of genius. They're so far removed from the stars of the original film that the inevitable comparisons are rendered moot.
The story remains simple: Hollywood screenwriter David Sumner (Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Bosworth) relocate from the West Coast to her hometown in Mississippi to restore and then sell her family home. The locals remember Amy fondly, especially her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), a former high-school football star whose greatest triumphs are behind him. Charlie is obviously still in love with Amy, but he's respectful of her marriage -- at least for a while.
The trouble begins when the Sumners hire Charlie and his crew to fix their roof. The workers' constant presence and rude behavior gradually takes a toll on the marriage. David suggests that Amy stop dressing so provocatively. The word "coward" is flung around. The men sense David's emasculation and grow bolder in their transgressions. An aura of menace develops.
In Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs," you watched the characters from a distance, like lab rats in a clinical study of marital dysfunction, but you never related to them as people: In Lurie's version, you genuinely like the Sumners and feel the tension in your gut as the couple faces intrusions and violations.
Like Peckinpah's film, the new "Straw Dogs" climaxes with an eruption of extreme violence, and the sequence is both cathartic and corrosive. There is a great tragedy to the bloodbath, but there is great victory, too. You can only push people so far before they break -- or start to fight back.Other than Alex, Chicago Hates it:http://www.chicagotribune...20110916,0,517390.column
Writer-director Rod Lurie's bird-brained remake of "Straw Dogs" doesn't work on its own terms, and it can't hold a candle to the unruly, unstable merits of Sam Peckinpah's 1971 original.
It's miscast, barely functional in terms of technique, stupid and unnecessary. Other than that….
Seriously: Why remake this combustible property unless you have something to say about violence besides "whatever works"? Lurie settles for relocating the story from a Cornwall, England, village of rapists and cretins to small-town Mississippi and a related breed of same.The double sexual assault endured by the female protagonist is again the linchpin, though this time the climactic slaughter is treated as a "Saw"-ed-off shotgun joke with no serious indictments in any direction, least of all toward the once-emasculated, newly animalized male lead.
Instead of Dustin Hoffman as a pacifist Vietnam War-era American mathematician living (hiding?) abroad, the remake casts James Marsden as a pretty-boy Hollywood screenwriter. His wife is a TV actress played by Kate Bosworth, the once and future hometown queen of the town of Blackwater, whose citizens believe in God, football and guns. The couple in the '71 film were grimly mismatched, thereby giving the story some fascinating tensions from the outset. The new "Straw Dogs" marrieds go together in the blandest possible way.
The town's former high school gridiron hero (Alexander Skarsgard), now working as a contractor on the couple's post-Katrina rehab, cannot think straight when his ex-girlfriend (married to the godless milquetoast liberal writer) goes jogging braless. Every fevered glare points to the assault to come.
"Are you saying I'm asking for it?" the Bosworth character says to her husband early on, appalled. Lurie gives Bosworth lines such as this to make her a more progressive, enlightened object of desire. This marks a change from the Peckinpah version's misogynist implications, at least to many: That she was asking for it.
Peckinpah's film, however, is more provocatively complicated than its reputation. In the post-assault sections of the original, the wife's trauma was vividly realized on screen. Lurie and his editor try some of that same eye-blink flashback strategy, but it's a mess — all affectation and no intuition.
Marsden and Bosworth are flyweight presences on screen. James Woods, as the perpetually raging ex-coach who lights the fire that sets this corner of Mississippi burning, again, brings every kind of overacting, to little avail. Only Skarsgard lends some detail and scary subtlety to his role, and to a painfully useless film.
'Straw Dogs' -- 1 star
Sep 15 11 1:47 PM
Audiences for this incendiary button-pusher will mostly divide along two lines: those who think writer-director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Nothing but the Truth) has a hubris overload remaking Sam Peckinpah's 1971 landmark, and those who never heard of Bloody Sam's controversial take on macho violence and what defines rape. Let the games begin.
Forty years ago, Dustin Hoffman starred as David Sumner, the wussy American mathematician who takes his young English wife, Amy (Susan George), back to her native Cornwall farmhouse where an old flame, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), comes sniffing around. Lurie ditches England for the Deep South. James Marsden plays David, a wussy L.A. screenwriter who takes his TV-actress wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), back to her native farm where an old flame, Charlie (True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård), comes sniffing around.
On the surface, the two films are startlingly similar. Amy is raped, and David (unaware of the assault) is otherwise so humiliated as a man by Charlie and his buddies that he takes a brutal stand against their invasion. Peckinpah rubbed our noses in the bloodlust. Lurie invites objectivity. He gets strong, complex performances from actors who won't be painted into corners. (Is the teasingly sexy Amy asking for trouble? Is Charlie capable of regret? Does David need to kill to be a man?) Lurie has David writing a script about Stalingrad, the World War II battle in which the Soviets held on against Hitler, but at crippling costs in suffering. Lurie wants us to see the moral wounds that come from losing control, a solid reason for a remake. Both takes on Straw Dogs hold up a dark mirror to humanity. Choose your own bad medicine.
Sep 15 11 2:52 PM
Sep 15 11 2:56 PM
Gary M. Kramer
http://www.citypaper.net/movies/2011-09-15-straw-dogs.htmlRod Lurie’s pointless, lurid remake of Straw Dogs is less likely to start a discussion about the meaning of its violence and sexuality and more inclined to provoke conversations about why it was (re)-made at all.
Set to an overwrought Bernard Hermann-esque score that telegraphs every emotion, this nasty bit of Southern Gothic has milquetoast L.A. screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) moving to his wife Amy’s (Kate Bosworth) Mississippi hometown. David hires Amy’s ex, the sinewy, sweaty good ol’ boy Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), to fix a damaged roof. As stereotypes are reinforced — David plays chess and listens to classical music; Charlie shoots pool and deer and plays rock — their measured masculinities are contrasted with overt female sexuality.
But Lurie doesn’t freight any real meaning — or palpable sexual tension — in the silent glances the main characters exchange. Instead, when ineffectual David tells Amy that she shouldn’t go bra-less, she retaliates by flashing Charlie and his crew. That Amy is punished for her act by rape — in a scene egregiously juxtaposed with David losing his innocence hunting/shooting a buck — is reprehensible.
There are additional layers of sexuality/masculinity in crises, as seen in a quasi-interesting subplot involving the teenage daughter of a drunken coach (a hammy James Woods) and the local developmentally disabled man suspected of pedophilia. But these characters/elements also lack depth.
By the time the unpleasant Straw Dogs ends — with David giving up his pacifist principles to exact a bloody, sadistic brand of vigilante justice — viewers will need a cleansing shower.
Sep 15 11 2:58 PM
Sep 15 11 3:00 PM
As a straightforward, sensationalistic violent thriller about ordinary people fighting for survival, Rod Lurie's “Straw Dogs” works better than most.
Lurie takes his time setting up the characters, giving several a chance to achieve some depth and a little history before setting in motion a slow build of events culminating in a nasty, bloody home invasion that would send Macaulay Culkin screaming into the night.
But Lurie's remake does preserve Peckinpah's operating theme of the inevitability of violence as it dispenses unflattering views of all its characters with equal degrees of cynicism.
Small-town Southerners are country bumpkins who can't separate God from football. All women, young and younger, are self-centered sexual manipulators. California guys are snooty, snotty wimps with no convictions.
That would describe Hollywood screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden), who goes with his sexy, actress wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), to her hometown of Blackwater, Miss., to take care of her late father's estate, now in disarray.
David instantly reveals himself to be a snob and a wimp to the sweaty, beefy local yocals. One, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), used to date Amy back in the day, and it's clear from their reunion that he still fancies her.
As a peacemaking gesture, David offers Charlie and his Mississippi droogies the job of rebuilding his late father-in-law's barn, damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Days go by, and the locals constantly test David by leaving their jobs early to go hunting and by starting at the crack of dawn just to wake up and peeve their employer.
As Lurie slowly ratchets up the tensions, a seemingly unconnected subplot has a hot-tempered, alcoholic retired football coach (James Woods in raging Cajun mode), obsessed with the idea that a mentally challenged local man (Dominic Purcell) wants to rape his 15-year-old cheerleader daughter Janice (Willa Holland).
Although details have been altered, the broad strokes of Lurie's “Straw Dogs” (David tells us the significance of the title, unlike Quentin Tarantino who didn't in his “Reservoir Dogs”) remain the same as in Peckinpah's film. Both versions wrestle with definitions of modern masculinity.
In 1971, Dustin Hoffman's mathematician and self-proclaimed pacifist (the Vietnam War was still raging at this time) accompanies his wife (Susan George) to her English hometown where the Charlie character (David Warner) rapes her in the most disturbing sexual attack I've seen on film.
Not because of any explicitness or severity (although Peckinpah edited his film to avoid an X-rating), but because Amy appears to enjoy the assault. Or does she?
At one point, she imagines her assailant to be her husband. Could this be a misinterpreted survival mechanism? The long, intimately detailed rape opened up a can of ambiguity hotly debated by critics, film fans and feminists.
Lurie stages this assault as a simple, forced physical attack with Amy merely resigned to not fight her former boyfriend.
George's Amy was a boldly manipulative woman who deliberately let the leering locals watch her topless so she could derive a sense of personal power over them.
Bosworth plays her Amy with much more modesty, and far less commitment in her dangerous flirtations to tease the men.
Given the less complex nature of Lurie's “Straw Dogs,” the actors deserve praise for fleshing out their characters far better than Lurie's adapted screenplay requires, especially Skarsgard in a winning bad boy performance that's both quietly menacing — and frighteningly normal.
Sep 15 11 4:09 PM
-- John Delia
Sep 15 11 4:54 PM
Sep 15 11 5:30 PM
‘Straw Dogs’ spits up a queasy
There was some surprise about a moment during
last week’s Republican debate in which the audience applauded the high rate of
state executions in Texas. But the applause makes sense. They were clapping for
a kind of justice. That’s what the audience is cheering for at the end of
“Straw Dogs,’’ although the sense of partisanship swings in the opposite
direction. The movie is like being waterboarded by liberals outside a
Democratic National Committee event. It’s a crude, queasy, ugly remake of a
crude, queasy, ugly, yet artistically superior 40-year-old Sam Peckinpah movie
with Dustin Hoffman as a math professor who becomes a real man when he
slaughters the men who rape Susan George, who plays his kinky British wife.
The new movie, set in Blackwater, Miss., puts
James Marsden in the Hoffman role of David, and casts Kate Bosworth as the
wife, Amy. These two have come south from Hollywood in a new Jaguar. He’s
writing a movie about the Battle of Stalingrad. She grew up here, has become a
TV actor, and returns home to fix her dead father’s house, not with their
entertainment money but with FEMA dollars. Yes, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth
are the faces of federal relief. David tells the strapping construction guy,
Charlie, (Alexander Skarsgard) who’s about to repair the house, that he’s
writing a screenplay. He wears $300 shirts. When someone asks him whether he
likes football, he says never misses the Harvard-Yale game (which means he
didn’t even understand the question). Amy does her jogging without shoes or a
bra. When she complains that Charlie’s crew is making her uncomfortable, he
suggests she wear more clothes, which only makes her remove her shirt for
Charlie and his crew.
Rod Lurie wrote and directed this remake, and
he’s failed to account for the degree to which an audience will spend two hours
rooting for, say, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to Lysol everybody to death
from 1962 Jackson. He skipped the macho grandstanding of the Peckinpah movie
and saw a chance to make a tale of two states - one red, one blue. The
Mississippians open beer bottles with their belt buckles. They hunt. They don’t
respond to police distress calls because they’re watching football. High-school
football. They’re half-witted or, in the case of the cheerleader who seduces
the half-wit, they’re half-dressed. James Woods, as the cheerleader’s alcoholic
father, has an unholy time eating the scenery and regurgitating his role as
Medgar Evers’s assassin in “The Ghosts of Mississippi.’’
The movie’s title comes from the Chinese
philosopher Laozi: “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad
creatures as straw dogs; the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw
dogs.’’ The dogs now include us. The whole movie - the eventual rape, the
harassment, the half-wit, and the girls - is rigged for the final siege of the
couple’s fortress, in which pampered David gets, at last, to live out his own
Lurie is such an obvious director that he can’t
even allow Peckinpah’s fascist subtext to stand on its own. He’s such a
spineless one that he makes us conclude that Hollywood is battling the Tea
Party, so that the deaths don’t really stand for anything.
The only thing Lurie believes in is his certitude
that justice is being served. And the big cheers when a bear trap meets its
climactic target will only swell his ego. David slays the Confederate Goliaths.
When one of the rednecks asks him if he ever made a “Saw’’ movie, he turns up
his nose. An hour later, he’s starring in one.
Sep 15 11 6:44 PM
The local guys, for their parts, swear and fight and love guns, God and football. They listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a few of them look as if they could moonlight as roadies for that shaggy, tragic Southern band. They leer at David’s wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), and are generally ill-mannered when they are not being ostentatiously and menacingly polite. They work with their hands and aren’t much for book learning. On an especially hot day, one of them says, “This must be that global warmin’ you educated fellers are always goin’ on about.”
The hyperbole is more amusing than offensive. Mr. Lurie, a former film critic whose earlier movies include politically tinged thrillers like “The Contender” and “Nothing but the Truth,” is holding a fun-house mirror up to an America that seems, at the moment, to thrive on polarization and mutual contempt. The reality is more complicated, but something of the corrosive, absurd logic of the culture wars is captured in the interactions between David and the gang of good ol’ boys who become his mortal enemies.
They are led by Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), a big, blond, handsome ex-jock who dated Amy in high school. He artfully exposes David’s snobbery and also plays on the newcomer’s liberal habits of deference and self-reproach. David may indeed think that he’s better than the residents of Blackwater, as Charlie insinuates, but he also accepts the idea, so central to their sense of identity, that the locals are more authentic than he is, closer to God and the earth and the real America.
So he tries to compromise and adapt to their ways, which only amplifies their contempt. He is someone to be mocked, abused and taken advantage of, but never respected. Finally, after too many indignities and too much bullying, he has no choice but to fight back.
There is an obvious political allegory here, and it’s possible that “Straw Dogs” will find a cult following among frustrated Democrats going into the next electoral cycle. Peckinpah’s version, set in a British backwater village, made vague allusions to Vietnam and stateside social disorder. Mr. Lurie shoehorns Southern racial history and the shadow of war into a single character, an African-American sheriff, played by Laz Alonso, who is a veteran of the Iraq war.
But like its predecessor, Mr. Lurie’s “Straw Dogs” is more overtly about sexual politics: about the meaning of manhood than about ideology, class or cultural differences. Amy, a semi-successful actress (she and David met when they were both working on a television crime series), is caught between her husband and the people she grew up with. There is a suggestion that she is unfulfilled in her marriage. Charlie, who likes to call her “Amycakes,” takes this as a hint that she still wants him rather than the condescending weakling whose last name she shares.
This leads to a rape that was, in Peckinpah’s version (which starred Susan George and Dustin Hoffman as Amy and David), filmed with uncomfortable (and, to many, infuriating) eroticism. Mr. Lurie, in keeping with the sensibilities of the times, makes the assault less ambiguous in its cruelty, but in other parts of the movie he holds onto the volatile blend of chivalry and misogyny that made Peckinpah’s film such a nasty, queasy, fascinating document of its era. He also uncovers an unacknowledged layer of feminism in the story, a bitter recognition of the inadequacy of male responses to violence against women.
The new “Straw Dogs” is at times a faithful copy of the old one, reproducing a great many scenes, shots and passages of dialogue, and tweaking others ever so slightly. As a filmmaker, Mr. Lurie cannot hope to match Peckinpah’s lyricism, but he strikes a decent balance of bluntness and subtlety.
The setting and some details have changed — the previous David was a mathematician, writing a scholarly book instead of a screenplay on the Battle of Stalingrad — but the story and the characters are fundamentally the same. The belligerent town drunk who instigates the final orgy of violence is a former football coach played by James Woods, and a crucial subplot involving his teenage daughter and the village idiot (for want of a more sensitive term) remains intact.
Mr. Lurie’s movie does not quite succeed on its own, though it is pulpy and brutal and at times grotesquely comical. The story does not cohere, and the performances are uneven. But as a piece of film criticism — as a conversation with, and interpretation of, an earlier film — it is intriguing.
“Straw Dogs” has often been understood as an exposé of David’s hypocrisy, a revelation of the beast that lurks in the heart of even the most civilized and passive modern man. But David’s homicidal frenzy is not really a descent into the primal, macho swamp of vengeance and self-defense where his antagonists have always been content to dwell. He is not defending Amy or punishing her rapists — in neither version does she tell him about the attack — but rather taking up arms in defense of two abstract ideas: the sanctity of private property and the importance of due process.
No wonder the blue-state audience at the screening I attended cheered and hooted as David made ingenious use of a nail gun, a bear trap and two pots of boiling oil to keep his tormentors at bay. I’m kidding, to some extent. The response to righteous movie mayhem is always more visceral than philosophical. But “Straw Dogs” does give you something to think about.
“Straw Dogs” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Rape, murder, cursing.
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Sep 16 11 8:39 AM
Thanks MarAzul. I'm also still on the lookout for NY Times and Wash. Post, if they even bother.I found the Washington Post review.
Thanks MarAzul. I'm also still on the lookout for NY Times and Wash. Post, if they even bother.
By Michael O'Sullivan
Movie remakes, like musical covers, are best when they're more than slavish, note-for-note copies of the original. They should introduce a twist on the original material, luring not just new (and presumably younger) audiences into theaters, but inviting them to think about that material in a different way.
In that regard, at least, the remake of the Sam Peckinpah-directed "Straw Dogs," a taut, bloody and deliberately disturbing thriller about a man defending his wife and property against a brutal home invasion, does not disappoint. The adaptation by film critic-turned-filmmaker Rod Lurie ("The Contender") is faithful to the controversial 1971 story without butchering it, even as it pushes its themes of masculinity and the roots of violence into new, and in this case, political, territory. Lurie's smart enough to know that we're supposed to be disturbed -- and not titillated -- by the savagery the movie depicts.
The question is: Are we smart enough? A preview audience responded with whooping and scattered applause to the remake's horrific climax, making me wonder whether the flaw's in the new version, or in us.
In one of two big changes to the original, Lurie relocates the drama from rural England to the Deep South. In the process, he also turns its hero from a nebbishy American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman), butting heads with violent British yobs, into a Hollywood screenwriter adrift in Middle America (James Marsden, arguably a stand-in for Lurie). What that means is this: The clash at the center of the film is no longer between one man and a gang of random thugs, but between two grand themes: Left Coast liberalism and the culture of God, guns and country. It's a showdown between red-state America and blue-state America.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Blackwater, Miss. -- a town whose name evokes unchecked aggression, with its echo of the notorious Iraq war contracting company -- Marsden's David Sumner encounters a dangerously volatile situation. A Harvard-educated intellectual, David doesn't hunt, listen to country music, follow football or believe in God, all of which puts him at odds with the churchgoing, sports-loving, rural community in which he and his actress wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), find themselves after relocating from L.A. to the house she grew up in. Making matters worse is the fact that Amy's old beau Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard, smoldering in more ways than one) hasn't ever really gotten over her. Charlie's like a ticking time bomb.
So is everyone else in the film. From the town's angry and alcoholic former high school football coach (James Woods, decked out in a Bear Bryantesque hounds-tooth hat) to Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), a developmentally disabled man with an unspecified history of inappropriate behavior with underage girls, "Straw Dogs" is a minefield of unexploded human ordnance.
But don't worry. Release, of a sort, will come. After suffering hazing and humiliation large and small -- including the execution of their pet cat and a creepy sexual assault -- David and Amy find themselves in a violent confrontation with the coach, Charlie and Charlie's hillbilly pals, all of whom show up at David and Amy's house one night, drunk and looking to lynch Jeremy. Now holed up in David and Amy's house, after a tragic accident involving the coach's 15-year-old daughter (Willa Holland), Jeremy takes on a symbolic role here. He's innocence personified. And David is his unlikely champion.
The 1971 film was about how it was possible to win a fight while still losing everything, including one's humanity. Its outcome, brutal for the time, left you shell-shocked, by design.
The new version wants to leave you reeling, too. It tries to equate monstrous behavior -- not just Charlie's, or David's, but America's -- with a society that condones, and even glorifies, violence. Football, hunting, Budweiser and inflammatory rhetoric from the pulpit all share blame for society's ills.
Does Lurie have an ax to grind? And how. Yet if, to some ears, its high-pitched whine nearly drowns out the underlying story at times, why did so many in that preview audience seem deaf to it?
Maybe that's Lurie's real point: A culture that feeds on violence -- in real life and on film -- has also inured us to it.
Sep 16 11 10:32 AM
The film's descent into all out chaos and hardcore violence comes organically and it wasn't until after leaving the theater that I began searching for the reasons behind what I had just watched. Interesting enough, one theme that remains is to question whether or not the characters were "asking for it," largely in the case of Amy's character, who along with Marsden is quite good, even if Marsden doesn't quite create as pathetic a character as Hoffman created in '71.
The performances aren't in any way the problem, though. The biggest problem, as I've already slightly touched upon, is going to be a matter of motivation and reason. Sam Peckinpah's original had several subtle moments that led to the film's ultimate outcome, some are carried over, but most have been changed and changed in ways that don't benefit the film.
I typically think nudity on screen is, for the most part, unnecessary. However, there is a scene here where I think the audience needs to see what the characters in the film see to get the overall impact. An instance with a chalkboard is mildly similar, but not nearly as problematic as it was in the original story. And then the overall reason for why the Sumners have decided to head to Mississippi in the first place is the most damaging.
If you think it's unfair to compare this film as much as I have to Peckinpah's original, I would typically tend to agree, but the two films are so similar that in the areas where they differ the differences are quite alarming. Yet, it doesn't mean I didn't like Lurie's Straw Dogs. In fact, I still rather enjoyed it, particularly Skarsgard who delivers a calm and menacing character that even up to the end keeps you guessing.
This is going to be a tough film for people to watch, but Peckinpah's '71 feature still cannot be touched. If the release of this film means more people may find the original, which itself was based on the Gordon Williams novel "The Siege of Treacher's Farm", then I'm all for this latest remake, even though the argument as to whether or not it was really necessary is entirely valid.
Sep 16 11 7:39 PM
By Carrie Rickey
Inquirer Film Critic
What does it mean, exactly, to man up?
For those familiar with Sam Peckinpah's controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs,
Rod Lurie's faithful - yet surprisingly dissimilar - remake almost
succeeds as an object lesson in the difference between being a man and
being a macho animal. But it fails as a gripping home-invasion thriller.
In both films, a cerebral urban guy moves with his hot wife back to
her rural birthplace, where townies resent his success and her elevated
social status. In both films, the fractures in the marriage between
urban guy David (bespectacled James Marsden in the remake) and hot wife,
Amy (Kate Bosworth), become chasms because emasculated urban guy fails
to mark his territory and is not around to defend his wife from rape.
In Lurie's remake, Mississippi horn dogs come sniffing around Amy.
But instead of setting boundaries, David hires them to fix a roof blown
away by Hurricane Katrina.
One of them, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), a former high-school
quarterback, dated Amy when she was a cheerleader and would like to take
up where they left off. David plays chess. Charlie plays mind games.
Lurie (The Contender) elicits a terrific performance from
Bosworth as Amy. Her meringue beauty belies a stony resolve. She is
furious at David for his inability to stand up to the self-described
rednecks who commit numerous trespasses, and undress Amy with their
Why don't you wear a bra?, David asks. Amy believes she should be
able to dress how she wants in her own house. In her anger, Amy flashes
the workmen, an act interpreted by Charlie and coworkers as an
In Peckinpah's version, Amy (played by saucy Susan George) was - in
the parlance of the day - "asking for it." Even worse, in Peckinpah's
notorious rape scene, it seemed that Amy was responsive.
Give Lurie this: His rape scene does not, like Peckinpah's,
aestheticize sexual violence. Amy does not prefer Charlie's macho to her
husband's meekness; she just wants David to stand up for himself the
way she stands up for herself.
Yet her rape is crudely intercut with a sequence of David hunting.
David stalks and shoots a buck, his rifle discharging at the same moment
Charlie climaxes. I was horrified by the apparent cinematic equation of
one man finding his manhood as another brutally exercises his. Perhaps
Lurie meant to suggest that David was "manning up" and Charlie was a
In any event, after that montage, the film limps to its finale - an
attack where, together, Amy and David defend their home and marriage.
Even for an exploitation movie, the second half of Straw Dogs feels awfully perfunctory.
Sep 16 11 7:41 PM
LOS ANGELES - In one of her most famous reviews, Pauline Kael
described Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" as "the first American film that
is a fascist work of art." Released in 1971, the movie follows an
American mathematician, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), and his wife, Amy
(Susan George), who become subject to an escalating series of attacks
by a gang of locals; its graphic depiction of rape and murder
crystallized the filmmaker's worldview that humans are instinctively
attuned to violence.
No one is more aware of the film's
complicated legacy than Rod Lurie. The writer-director is set to release
his new version of "Straw Dogs" on Friday, with James Marsden replacing
Hoffman as Sumner, Kate Bosworth as Amy and "True Blood" star Alexander
Skarsgard as Charlie, the ringleader of the band of thugs. It's a
seemingly odd choice for a filmmaker who considers himself a feminist
and is best known for politically minded, female-centric films and TV
shows such as 2000's "The Contender" and 2005's "Commander in Chief,"
which cast Geena Davis as the country's first female president.
He understands the sentiment his remake stirred up among fans of the man known as "Bloody Sam."
Today's news video
"When the movie was first announced three or four years ago, the
blogosphere went bananas," said Lurie, sitting down for an interview in
his Hollywood office, a bound collection of Kael's New Yorker reviews
on the book shelf behind him. "People were attacking me, saying I don't
know Peckinpah, I'm no Peckinpah, the film can't possibly be good, why
would they want to sully a perfect classic and finally what's the need
"The thing is," Lurie said, "there's no need to make
any movie. There's no need to make a 'Harry Potter' film, there's no
need to make 'Bridesmaids,' there's no need to make a James Bond film.
But there is a purpose. My purpose was to tell a really exciting story
but from a point of view completely different from the one that had been
presented 40 years ago."
Lurie maintains that remakes have
essentially become their own genre, and with the success of the Coen
brothers' update of "True Grit" last year and planned reinventions of
"All Quiet on the Western Front" and "A Star is Born" (the latter of
which has been remade twice previously), there seems to be little
concern in Hollywood about preserving the perceived artistic sanctity of
Adapted from Gordon Williams' novel,
"The Siege of Trencher's Farm," "Straw Dogs" is arguably Peckinpah's
second signature feature after "The Wild Bunch," the 1969 Western that
established him as a master of intense, blood-spattered cinema. In the
film, squabbling couple David and Amy arrive in the rural town of
Cornwall and almost instantly run afoul of the tight-knit community
where Amy was raised. David's pacifism marks him as an outsider; he's
perceived as an effete intellectual whose atheism and liberal views
directly conflict with the insular English pub culture, as embodied by
Amy's leering ex, Charlie Venner (Del Henney).
invites Charlie to help repair the roof of the barn on Amy's father's
secluded estate, he unknowingly invites the conflict into his home.
Before the story's conclusion, Amy has been raped by Charlie and one of
his cronies and David has abandoned his convictions, demonstrating that
he is willing to kill to defend his property (including his wife). It
was that conclusion that drove Kael to her judgment - Sumner's actions
are a direct representation of fascist ideals such as the promulgation
of violence as a means to renew the vitality of the human spirit.
Opening the same year as "A Clockwork Orange" and "Dirty Harry,"
"Straw Dogs" spoke to a new brutality in film, an artistic response to
the social turbulence of the late 1960s and early '70s. Harold Pinter,
in a letter to Peckinpah dated Dec. 9, 1970, decried the director's
"Straw Dogs" screenplay as "obscene not only in its unequivocal delight
in rape and violence but in its absolute lack of connection with
anything that is recognizable or true in human beings and in its
pathetic assumption that it is saying something 'important' about human
Lurie has a copy of that letter. It was ultimately
what convinced the 49-year-old former film critic to undertake the
project, which was suggested to him by his producing partner Marc
Frydman. Lurie maintains that Peckinpah's film spoke to his conviction
that humans harbored a capacity for savagery - a philosophy in part
inspired by the writings of Robert Ardrey ("African Genesis" and "The
"Basically what the books say is
that human beings are genetically coded to violence - it's a biological
instinct that we have, that we're beasts," said the friendly, earnest
filmmaker wearing a crew cut and a West Point sweatshirt. "It's exactly
the opposite of how I view human beings. At the end of my 'Straw Dogs,'
David Sumner finds the man inside of him. At the end of Peckinpah's, he
finds the animal inside of him."
In terms of plot, the remake
mirrors its predecessor closely, though Lurie sets his thriller in
small-town Mississippi. Bosworth's Amy is an actress, Marsden's David is
an Ivy League grad-turned-Hollywood screenwriter working. Skarsgard's
Charlie is the former captain of the football team coming to terms with
his fading former glory, and James Woods is the hothead ex-coach turned
Lurie transported the story to the American South to
take advantage of a culture where attending Friday night football games
and Sunday morning church services is mandatory, activities like hunting
are routine and where Sumner's decision to turn up in a vintage Jaguar
convertible is perceived as an act of aggression.
to pick a place where there is a certain amount of violence as a way of
life," Lurie said. You take this guy, this intellectual writer, and you
plop him into the middle of this world, those are going to collide."
The movie was shot in Louisiana on a budget of about $25 million.
When it came time to film the scene in which Amy is attacked, Lurie
arranged a phone call between Bosworth and George, though in an email
the younger actress declined to elaborate on the emotional challenges of
shooting that particular sequence, saying only that "it was a very
(In a 2003 interview with London's
Guardian newspaper, George, who was only 20 years old when she made
"Straw Dogs," said that she tried to leave the Peckinpah production at
one point, concerned with the way the director intended to handle the
rape scene. Lurie said he also spoke to the English actress extensively
about the sequence, which he characterized as "the turning point in the
"I handle that scene very differently than Peckinpah
did," Lurie said. "I don't see the virtue of brutality on screen. I
don't see women as pathetic. I see them as strong and fierce."
Skarsgard told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that he
wanted his Charlie to be more than a single-minded brute. "In
Peckinpah's version, he's definitely the villain," the Swedish actor
said. "People in real life aren't good or bad, it's more complicated
than that. With Charlie ... I want the audience to feel some kind of
sympathy for him and understand where he's coming from and why he's who
he is and why he does what he does."
aside, Lurie's "Straw Dogs" is still a hard-edged thriller with moments
of some extreme imagery; the film carries an R rating. Screen Gems
President Clint Culpepper believes the film is accessible enough to
speak to a wide swath of moviegoers under 35. The studio will open
"Straw Dogs" on more than 2,000 screens Friday, aiming to lure in
audiences with a marketing campaign that emphasizes the home invasion
horror elements over cultural critique.
"I didn't make an
art-house movie," Culpepper said. "I wanted a good script and good
actors and a really good director, but at the end of the day, I made a
movie that delivers on a genre level. I hope people walk out of it
thinking it had really good performances and a well-crafted movie and at
the same time audiences look at it and go, 'Wow, that's compelling.'"
As for concerns about blaspheming the legacy of Peckinpah,
Culpepper has none. He believes Lurie's film stands on its own merits -
and he insists that most people have never even heard of the original
Producer Frydman, 52, acknowledges the
trepidation some people might have toward a new interpretation of
Peckinpah's transgressive vision. He remembers identifying with
Hoffman's Sumner after seeing the original film in the theater himself,
but he believes that "Straw Dogs" was a compelling movie that could
benefit from a modern polish.
"Some critics will say
Peckinpah's movies are holy relics, but when it comes to remakes, I
believe there is church and state," he said, adding for emphasis, "We
would never do a remake of 'The Wild Bunch.' That would be crazy."
Two days after that interview, Warner Bros. announced its planned
"Wild Bunch" update, possibly with director Tony Scott at the helm.
Sep 16 11 7:42 PM
Taken on its own terms as a nasty tale of how a bunch of rough
rednecks pester and brutalize a nice city couple until the latter summon
up the grit to turn the tables on them, "Straw Dogs" amounts to a raw
slab of red meat to tempt and probably satisfy the hoi polloi. But to
anyone who's seen Sam Peckinpah's provocative and unsettling 1971
original, Rod Lurie's redo adds nothing and subtracts nuance and
ambiguity from what was one of the more controversial films of an
already tumultuous period. Screen Gems should be able to exploit the
story's violence and inherent blood-boiling elements to good immediate
returns in wide release.
Moving the action from the West of England to America's Deep South
instantly produces the sought-after hotbed of conflict for a
good-looking Hollywood screenwriter and his sexy blond actress wife when
they roll into the aptly named Blackwater, Miss., in their cherry
silver '67 Jaguar XKE to take up extended residence while he writes a
script about the siege of Stalingrad.
The writer, David (James Marsden), does wonders for his status with
the local good ol' boys by showing up at the local bar wearing a Harvard
lacrosse t-shirt, while Amy (Kate Bosworth), who was born and bred in
these parts, is instantly hit on by rangy former flame Charlie
(Alexander Skarsgard), ringleader of the town yahoos, who doesn't
consider her married status as an excuse not to pick up where they left
off years ago.
Aside from the changes in settings and professions (Dustin Hoffman
played a mathematician in the original, while Susan George's wife was,
well, a wife), Lurie has deviated little from the script by David Zelag
Goodman and Peckinipah, itself based on a novel by Gordon Williams.
Fundamentally, it's a study of how far passivism can be pushed, a
collision between an aggressive force and a more pliant one that can be
roused to a defense only when survival is genuinely threatened.
Especially because the central motivating incident is the rape of the
wife, this is a story designed to stoke fires and awaken basic instincts
in both the characters and the audience. But whereas Peckinpah managed
not only to raise hackles but to get under the skin, Lurie manages only
the former, which reduces the material to the level of
Settling into a lovely riverside farmhouse belonging to Amy's family,
the affable David tries to get down to work while Amy takes a break
from her TV career, which makes her the envy of her old local
girlfriends. Providing a major distraction, however, is the daily
presence of Charlie and his boys, hired to fix up the dilapidated barn
on the property. Chummy on the surface and mock-respectfully addressing
David as “sir,” Charlie and his crew nonetheless play their little games
to test the limits, blasting loud music, entering the house for beer
whenever they feel like, knocking off early, hanging a pet cat in a
closet and leering at Amy when she jogs around in scanties. When her
husband warns her about the effect her appearance has on the horndogs,
she reprovingly asks, “Are you saying I'm asking for this?”
Peckinpah's film devoted a good deal more time to domestic scenes
between the husband and wife, revealing ways in which they were not
quite in synch and certain dissatisfactions on her part, nothing overtly
spelled out but enough to quietly suggest she might have reason to
recall her old boyfriend from time to time. This feeds into her
reactions when her former beau rapes her, a sequence that set off a
furor at the time for its intimations, not that she asked for it but
that, once it was happening, she was not altogether unresponsive.
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell
Director: Rod Lurie
Run time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
MPAA rating: R for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content and pervasive language.
There's little such ambiguity this time around when Charlie comes
calling after the boys have deliberately lured David out on a hunting
expedition to put his manhood to the test. “You're a coward,” Amy
accuses her husband in the aftermath. “No, I'm not,” he replies, before
having to prove it by defending their house against an armed nocturnal
assault by the liquored-up mob, joined now by the hot-headed local
football coach (James Woods), whose wayward teenage daughter has been
assaulted by the village idiot the couple is protecting.
Lurie has recycled the most memorably gruesome details of Peckinpah's
staging of the domestic battle-to-the-death, including the shotgun
blast to the foot and the fearsome bear trap. But while the visceral
impact of the improvised combat remains and will have the intended
effect on viewers, most of whom will not have seen the original, the way
the action has been rushed and amplified makes it seem less realistic,
goosed up in an artificial movie way. The coach's contribution to the
melee, particularly as concerns his intervention with the local sheriff
(practically the only black character on view), is especially
unconvincing. All told, Lurie tries way too hard to outdo Peckinpah with
his siege and, not surprisingly, falls way short.
Marsden is entirely affable as a well-intentioned guy whose wife has
perhaps not given him fair warning for what he may be in for on her home
turf. For the film to have had any dimension other than as a home
invasion shocker, however, Bosworth's Kate would have needed layers of
subtext; until she questions his bravery, there's no indication she
finds him anything less than a good guy and husband, and there are no
questions raised about the state of their marriage, any lingering
feelings she might have for Charlie and so forth. The central
relationship has no depth and Bosworth comes off as rather hard,
certainly compared to Susan George in the original, who was wonderfully
changeable of mood and temperature; indeed, she was the heart of the
film, notwithstanding Hoffman's admirable summoning of hitherto untested
Towering over his costars, TV hearththrob Skarsgard makes for a
formidable antagonist, while Woods has no trouble conjuring up the small
town's reigning whackjob. Louisiana locations are suitably atmospheric,
although the mismatching of fog and clear skies during David's
disorienting hunting expedition is sloppy in the extreme.
© 2017 Yuku. All rights reserved.