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Straw Dogs (2011) - Review

Straw Dogs

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

ROD Lurie’s remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs offers little in the way of anything new except the opportunity to see the story transplanted to a modern day setting and an American location.

It’s well acted, suitably provocative and keeps the key moments intact. But it says much about how viewing attitudes have changed and hardened that its ability to shock feels much less muted.

As with the original, the action is based on Gordon Williams’ novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm and finds meek-mannered screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) arriving in Mississippi to take over the isolated house left to his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), and finding that their presence antagonises the locals.

Tensions become raised when they ask Amy’s ex, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), to help with some roof repairs, culminating in a violent sexual encounter between Charlie and Amy while David is out hunting.

Matters finally come to a head when the couple intervene to help a mentally handicapped town resident (Dominic Purcell) escape from a perceived crime.

Peckinpah’s original was by no means the director’s best work, and was surrounded by the controversy surrounding its rape sequence, but it scarred viewers by virtue of its no-nonsense approach to feminism, male ego and violence… pushing any number of buttons towards its grim conclusion.

It also offered viewers the chance to see Dustin Hoffman in a role that few would have placed him in, resorting to desperate violence to defend his home from the vengeful town-folk.

Lurie’s remake poses some of the same questions while simultaneously offering Marsden the type of role he’s not normally associated with. But it fails to make as many convincing points, even though the issues concerning the sexualisation of women are arguably even more relevant.

Rather, it becomes stuck between examining those issues and the revenge thriller-horror aspects that are also an integral part of both movies and which flirt with the kind of scene-making that you may also find in many straight-forward horrors.

Hence, when compared to the original it does seem rather a pointless exercise in repetition. But taken on its own merits, and presuming it’ll be seen by the majority of cinema-goers who have no knowledge of Peckinpah, it is a solid and suitably gritty thriller.

The performances are convincing and the tension suitably maintained, while the siege finale is well executed and strong enough to leave viewers gasping on at least one occasion.

And while both movies are difficult to ‘like’, they do what they do with a ruthless efficiency that gets the job done. Plus, in the case of Lurie’s version, there’s no room for ambiguity in the depiction of the most controversial scene.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD Release: November 4, 2011