Saturday, 14 April 2012



Yup, they remade the Peckinpah film. Is nothing sacred? And I say that as one who doesn't have a great love for the 1971 film: I suppose I admire it enough, it's interesting, but it doesn't grab me and I find the rape sequences, and specifically their ambiguities about the victim's response, deeply offputting. Which, obviously, they're supposed to be. Rod Lurie's version, relocated to the backwoods of the Deep South, strikes many of the same chords but in a much simpler orchestration, emerging as a simple but effective rural exploitation movie which, on that level, is nicely done, well mounted and largely enjoyable enough.

The original Straw Dogs never bothered, as far as I recall, to explain its title which is apparently from a Chinese quotation about religious sacrifices. The relevance still escapes me, frankly. Nerdy, intellectual David (James Marsden in the Dustin Hoffman role) and his young wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) relocate to her late father's house in Blackwater, Mississippi where he can work on his epic screenplay about the battle of Stalingrad. But he immediately, though inadvertently, proceeds to annoy the good ol' boy locals with his flash car, his classical music, his lack of interest in hunting or church. He's not from around here, he doesn't understand the way we do things, he's a wet Californian atheist liberal in redneck, beer and football and Bible territory. Matters are further complicated by hiring Amy's ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) to fix the roof of the outbuildings: he and his oafish buddies are more interested in the lovely Amy....

The film hits many of the familiar beats: the couple's cat, the hunting trip that's merely a diversion to get David out of the way, the mentally handicapped local whose friendship with the football coach's underage daughter provokes the final siege and massacre, and of course the infamous rape scene. But it's nowhere near as ambiguous this time. While there are certainly suggestions throughout that Amy might be disappointed in David as a Man, when set against a physical alpha like Charlie, there's far less suggestion of consent than in the Peckinpah film - which is what made the original so disturbing and uncomfortable. Here it's much more along the black and white lines of backwoods rape/revenge movies like Death Weekend. But what's the point in remaking Straw Dogs if you're only going to simplify it? You might as well remake an empty bit of trash like Death Weekend and try and deepen it.

As a crowd-pleasing exploitation movie with bursts of graphic violence and a climax in which the nerdy guy finally fights back against the bullies and the thugs who have treated him with mocking derision throughout (and, though he doesn't know it, his wife with abuse), the shiny new Straw Dogs is entertaining enough. It has little depth but it's nicely shot, it's well put together and has a sprinkling of neat touches throughout. In ten years' time, however, when you mention Straw Dogs in conversation no-one's going to ask which version you're talking about, and they'll know it ain't this one.



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