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Straw Dogs (Film and DVD)
I'd been contemplating watching this movie for a while but it was never a priority as I was never really a big fan of the original, although it is a massive movie in terms of the time it was made and the message it sent out. I was however, curious as to how they would go about the remake of such a controversial film.
Most of you who read my reviews know that I collected all the movies from the banned list in 1983 and the original of Straw Dogs was included. This was mainly due to the fact that Susan George's character was raped in a scene that was considered too strong for the mainstream audience. Whether the BBFC were right in this decision is not really a factor in this. I think the outstanding point is the one of how different we are as a society now in what we deem acceptable or not. To be honest I never thought the rape scene was that bad in graphic detail but it was an uneasy scene and I can understand how some people, especially women would find it offensive and insensitive. That said, I must admit, on watching the remake, the scene is no less disturbing and upsetting. Again, it is by no means the worst rape scene in film but does make the viewer feel very uncomfortable. The French movie 'Irreversible' has a rape scene that lasts nigh on ten minutes in an underground subway and is sickening and very graphic, yet having been made twenty years after the original Straw Dogs it was not banned and merely viewed as essential to the movie's plot. Again this shows how different society views such a taboo subject as rape in film.
Straw Dogs was a movie that offended and sickened on more of an emotional level than a purely physically violent one. The rape scene although controversial and seen as unnecessary in the original was an integral part of the story and still is in today's remake. Of course, today, no one bats an eyelid and even teenagers will be saying 'big deal' on viewing, but the more sensitive viewers or shall we say the ones that care and have morals will still find it difficult to watch.
Another reason that made me finally decide to watch the remake was the fact that it stars Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Eric Northman in True Blood. I like him in True Blood and knowing that he was playing a bad guy in Straw Dogs peaked my interest, as he is a damn good actor.
The remake would cause a lot of controversy as the original was directed by Sam Peckinpah, who is considered a legend amongst his peers and fans alike. The writer and director of the remake, Rod Lurie was lambasted for even considering remaking a Peckinpah picture and his movie was always going to be chewed up and spit out by the fans. I will give you my thoughts on the outcome after I have outlined the plot for you; so let us take a look at what the movie is about.
David (James Marsden) is a writer and is working on a new script for a documentary about Stalingrad. His wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth) suggests they move to her Father's old farm in the Deep South, so that David can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a while to concentrate on his writing.On a visit to the small town a few miles from the farm, David meets some of the locals and Amy's ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) and his cronies. Charlie introduces himself to David and explains that he is the guy he spoke to on the phone about getting the roof fixed on the farm's barn. David agrees and unwittingly invites menace and terror into his home.In this small town you work, rest and play together or you don't fit in. The whole town turns out for the football team and they all go to church. As an atheist David is frowned upon and Charlie and his gang make no attempt to hide their interest in Amy and her short shorts and clinging summer vests.They start work on the roof by turning up at 6am and making a God awful racket with hammering and loud music waking David and Amy from their slumber. They finish work most days at noon because of the heat and David begins to think they are not taking the job seriously. The tension builds between David and the gang and also between David and Amy.The gang take a dislike to the city boy and what ensues is a terrifying tale of violence, rape and a fight for survival. The normally timid pacifist, David, will do and see things that will change him forever and to protect his wife and his home he may have to cross a line that most people would have a problem crossing.
Firstly I would like to say that Rod Lurie did a good job on the remake and stayed true to his own vision of what the movie should reveal about its characters and our society. I'll start with the main characters, David and Amy, played by James Marsden and Kate Bosworth. I have to admit that I couldn't stand either one of them. Let me rephrase that; I couldn't stand either character; the actors both did a fine job. David was a little up himself and I must admit I would've found him irritating myself if I was one of the locals. As if the so-called 'rednecks' weren't intimidating enough, he didn't have to look down his nose at them in such a condescending manner. The scene that will make all feminists and any sane, rational man cringe is the one where Amy tells David that the work gang were looking right through her clothes as she finished her jog. David replies by telling her that she should wear a bra and by doing so insinuates that she was asking for it. The tension between the two builds from that moment and I disliked him even more from that scene.
I must admit I preferred Dustin Hoffman in the original, but I don't think that has any bearing on James Marsden. I think it is more the way the character of David has been written in the remake than anything to do with the way he was acted. Another feeling that I couldn't shake during the movie was one that James Marsden looked like he was starring in 'Harry Potter - The days after Hogwarts', but maybe that is just me.
Now I can understand that he felt he had to protect his home and I can understand that he snapped but the one fail for this movie for me is the fact that the level he snaps to is rather out of proportion to what happens. Now, it must be said that he is trying tom protect someone else which I won't reveal as it would spoil the movie for you and he also sees someone get shot, so like I said I can understand the fear and the acting on impulse but what makes it a tad unrealistic for me is the fact that he does all this without knowing that his wife was raped. Ok, eventually he finds out after a conversation but by then he has already crossed the line. I think that could've been worked into the story a little better.
Kate Bosworth plays the role of Amy really well. It is an unassuming role that is steeped with hidden meaning and a past that she wants to keep well behind her. Again, I didn't really like her character but Bosworth did a great job.
Skarsgard is convincing as Charlie and has that same ability that he has in 'True Blood' of being able to look like a little boy lost one minute and a raving maniac the next. He was perfect for this role and is destined to play the 'love to hate him role' throughout his career.
Dominic Purcell who many of you will know from 'Prison Break' also makes an appearance as a retarded man who keeps getting into trouble for talking to young girls. One of these young girls is the daughter of the football team's ex-coach, who is brilliantly played by James Woods. So brilliantly in fact that I didn't even realise it was Woods in his first scene.
At the crux of this movie is the nature of man and how savage we can turn against each other for little reason and how violent and explosive we can be when there is a more serious attack against our will and our existence. I can only hope that in most situations like this, that the more sensible of us would choose to walk away, to run, to find help or find reason. Many of you will say that David had no choice but there is always a choice. There is also the fact that this is fiction and it may do us some good to see someone fight back and to give it to the wrong doers. It may also be that deep inside every one of us is a violence lying in wait, the fight side of our fight or flight response mechanism that is so finely balanced and poised.
People snap all the time and do things that they wouldn't normally dream of doing and live to regret.
Some people will say that they didn't know what came over them and acted like they never had before in a moment of panic and fear. That is where I couldn't really relate to David because, like I said, he snaps and that is understandable but given the timid nature of his character to that point, I think it was a tad over the top to say the least. Sometimes it is best to have the guts to speak up and say something when something is bothering you but David has this irritating knack of displaying an almost nonchalant approach to winding up the bad guys even more. I can imagine people in cinemas around the world when the movie was released and in homes everywhere with the DVD, secretly being pleased at the violence and shouting a resounding 'Go David' but keeping it to themselves to at least allow themselves to think that morally they know it is wrong, but damn it felt good to see the bad guys get what was coming to them.
All that said, the film is very entertaining and the last twenty minutes is all out blood, guts and sheer edge of your seat stuff. It is not a fantastic movie but it is well directed and the acting is top notch. The storyline is a predictable but still well drawn out. With the movie being shot mostly at night I felt it too suffocating and dark at times but it was well shot.
The movie ran on a budget of twenty-five million and only made ten million at the box office. It did only have a small theatrical release so maybe that is why it did so badly at the box office. It is unlikely that the DVD sales will see it break-even but with the prices of DVD's nowadays, you never can tell.
I was never a fan of the original movie but looking back on it now I can see that it was a crucial part of cinema for its time. I think the original is better than the remake but if you are after an afternoon or evening's entertainment it will suffice. I think the cast in the original were brilliant and as it was released in 1971 it had a lot more impact in that people at that time were not used to seeing such harrowing scenes of violence and rape.
Whether you prefer Peckinpah's original or Lurie's remake, Straw Dogs will always divide opinion on what is morally the right thing to do and what is acceptable. When does protecting yourself become a violent attack, laced with revenge and what is the difference?
Straw Dogs is available on DVD in original format and on Blue-Ray. It is also available in a special 40th anniversary edition with the original movie and the remake. You can pick it up quite cheaply on Amazon, eBay and many other DVD online stockists.
The extras on the DVD include an interview with director Rod Lurie and four featurettes, including: "Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic", "The Dynamics of Power: The Ensemble", "Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown", "Creating the Sumner House: The Production Design").
The movie runs at 110 minutes.
I give this movie three out of five stars.