Straw Dogs (2011) Rod Lurie
Production Budget: $25 million
Worldwide Gross: $10 million
Straw Dogs is a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name. We follow David (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) as they are moving to Amy’s ancestral house in the deep south. David is working on a screenplay and is looking forward to the peace and quiet. The locals don’t like this meekish city boy and the tensions slowly build to a gigantic conflict between them.
Part of what made the original so interesting were the issues that were explored. We have the obvious theme of violence but also issues of gender roles and the male image. It says something when you have a wide range of views on the events of the film. You have some people that view David’s actions as heroic as he sheds his “liberal“ exterior and becomes the alpha male and you have for example Sam Peckinpah who saw David as the villain of the film. He saw David as subconsciously wanting the violence and provoking it and that things could have been resolved peacefully somehow. There was no clear cut moral to be brought from this but a way for Peckinpah to work out some of his issues.
The remake instead opts out of any kind of complexity and goes for a simple black/white conflict. Now even that I am not going to make that my only criticism of the film. After all, I have said repeatedly I don’t necessarily mind remakes to a film as long as they do something new or innovative with it. After all, I didn’t hate the Get Carter remake simply because it didn’t have all the complexity of the original, it was because it at best a Direct to Video Stallone flick that brought nothing new to the table. My issue with the Straw Dogs remake is that when Lurie is done stripping awayall the issues and characterization, all you are really left with is a generic horror film about backwoods hicks picking on the city folk.
One thing that really bugged the crap out of me while watching it was not just that the complexity of the original being thrown out, but of the things kept in we had to dumb it down in typical condescending Hollywood fashion. We can’t have any questions or have the audience do some actual thinking. Don’t know what straw dogs are? Well don’t worry, because we will literally have the characters sit down and discuss the symbolism of it for three minutes. I’m almost shocked there weren’t flashing words on the screen going “IMPORTANT THEME!!! PAY ATTENTION!!!“ We also learn David is writing a screenplay about Stalingrad. Don’t get the parallel? Don’t worry, we will have a long scene where David explains very thoroughly to the rednecks the importance of the story. We can’t think for ourselve about the role of sexuality in this film so we have David ask the question of “Why don’t you wear a bra?“ to his wife and having her in turn give a lecture on why he’s an idiot. HELLO!!! SUBTLETY ARE YOU IN THERE!!! Even the controvertial rape scene is made less effective. It is not because of modern audiences dulled to violence, it is becaue of poor directing. The remake has lots of flashy edits and cross cutting when in the original it was more effective when the camera lingered on the events. It was uncomfortable because we could not look away from the horrible thing happening right in front of us. Now we have a CGI deer flying over James Marsden’s head as the sexual assault begins. Okay…
I hate to seem nitpicky but I have to criticize is the casting of James Marsden as David. This is a shame because Marsden is a charasmatic actor and he even does a fine job with the material. It’s just that David is supposed to be the absolute opposite of the rugged tough guy played by Alexander Skarsgard. I don’t care how frumpy you try to make him look or what nerdy glasses you put on his face, he still has the same chisled body type of Skarsgard. I would like to credit someone in particular, but even James Woods (who is the man BTW) is saddled with a one note character that even he can’t work his magic on.
I would like to be more generous to this film. I have read a good number of IMDb reviews from people who haven’t seen the original and think this movie is alright on its own. I guess if you really had no knowledge of the Peckinpah movie this would be a decent thriller. The acting is alright, the story is well executed, and the tension can be good at times. However, much like my thoughts on The Thing remake, I really have to ask: why would you settle on an average retread of a movie that is already great? The original beats the remake in every department from acting to cinematography to suspense and so on. It was rather tedious watching this movie because I kept waiting for something new or different to come out so that the movie would at least justify its existence. That moment never came and I spent over two hours asking myself why I wasn’t watching the original. There was no good reason for me, and there is no good reason for you either.