Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2

Silver Screen: Straw Dogs  *1/2
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Silver Screen: Straw Dogs *1/2
Bryan Miller

If you were to make a list of the top one-hundred movies that have no reason to be remade, you would not only have a list of eighty or so movies coming out in the next year, you'd also probably have a list with Straw Dogs near the top. Sam Peckinpah's uneasy treatise about masculinity and gender dynamics is best remembered for its shock value-- namely a rape sequence followed by some sharply filmed brutalism-- and also for its troubling ethos, which seemed to lean toward the Cro-Magnon even by the standards of 1971.

The lesson to be learned today is that you cannot trust a movie critic. They are a lowly lot, keen for attention and rarely able to garner it for any good reason, so they'll stoop to just about anything. Hence film-critic-turned-overrated-director Rod Lurie's particularly needless and woeful remake of Straw Dogs.

On paper, there's very little different in the remake. The biggest change is the location, swapping the English countryside for the American South, although the weakling Yankee protagonist-- Dustin Hoffman in the original-- remains static. Hoffman's David Sumner was a mathematician, but here he's reimagined as a Hollywood screenwriter played by James Marsden, probably because making him a screenwriter requires the least imagination possible (Lurie also wrote the screenplay, so go figure).

Sumner moves into the crumbling family estate of his blonde starlet wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). The locals in the stereotypical redneck town-- including an alcoholic football coach played by James Woods-- are less than enthused about Sumner, especially Amy's jock ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgå rd). To prove he's not intimidated, David hires Charlie's shiftless contracting crew to fix up his barn, escalating the tension between all three parties.

The same calamities befall the couple as in the original: She's raped twice-- the first time kinda sorta maybe pseudo-willingly-- the locals attack the house, and the pacifist Sumner is forced to prove he's a man by resorting to violence to protect his home and his wife.

Obviously, this gets thorny. Although his version is somewhat less explicit, Lurie's remake retains the, shall we say, “blurred lines” between rape and consensual intercourse (followed by regular ol' rape), which I found totally reprehensible in the original and just as bad here. I don't think it's enlightening or thought-provoking or particularly interesting in any way. It's provocative to no good end. Peckinpah was a brilliant and visceral filmmaker, but I'm not too interested in his philosophy or his system of morality.

What are we to make of Lurie's sensibilities, considering he's just parroting Peckinpah? Disciplehood? Tacit agreement? Devil's advocate? Doesn't matter-- he's an artless hack, irrelevant, not worth considering.

It's been many years since I saw the original Straw Dogs, and I'd forgotten entirely about the subplot involving the town's handicapped citizens, a cruel caricature of a village idiot here played by Dominic Purcell, cared for by a patient older brother (Walton Goggins). When a teen girl sexually taunts him, he panics and accidentally kills her, adding more uncomfortable subtext. It had totally slipped my mind, I think, because it's so stupid and incongruous with the rest of the plot, as though a moron's rendition of Of Mice and Men got jammed into the middle of I Spit on Your Grave.

Straw Dogs sucked then, and it sucks now. At least when Peckinpah did it, it sucked artfully.