Directed by: Rod Lurie Cast: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard Running Time: 1 hr 50 min Rating: R Due Out: December 20, 2011
PLOT: A married couple moves back to the wife's old hometown so he can write a screenplay in peace and quiet. But soon the locals start to seem more menacing than welcoming.
WHO'S IT FOR? I really don't know. Fans of vigilante films who hate women?
Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs was hugely controversial due to it's graphic violence on its release in 1971. After 40 years, Rod Lurie's remake plays like run-of-the-mill torture porn. Amy (Bosworth) and David (Marsden) move from the big city to the small Southern town where Amy grew up. There she runs into Charlie (Skarsgard), an old high-school boyfriend who still has the hots for her. David invites Charlie and his friends to work on the roof of the barn. Then trouble starts. They immediately begin attempting to intimidate David and sexually intimidate Amy, leering in an aggressive manner. When Amy complains, he husband tells her to wear a bra (clearly that was the problem). Then, she taunts these predatory men by flashing her breasts at them.
Later, David and Amy discover their cat, hanging dead in their bedroom wardrobe. Amy freaks out but David seems to think it's not a problem, for no discernible reason. Finally Amy is raped, in a brutal scene that shows Charlie attempting to win her back through rape, and at moments Amy seems to go along with it. Then he allows her to be dragged, screaming as she's raped again but one of Charlie's friends. Inexplicably, she refuses to tell anyone, either her husband or the police.
Normally I don't explain the whole plot, but I feel it's necessary to explain the strong reaction I had to Straw Dogs. I had seen Peckinpah's film and had huge problems with it. The women in that film behave like sexual manipulators, taunting men through offers of giving or withholding sex. They need to be tamed by the men, who can't be held responsible for their carnal needs. This film tells the same story but makes the motives more obscure. Bosworth taunts the men who attempt to intimidate her sexually. It seems both counter-intuitive and bizarre. If she has some psycho-sexual issues to work through, it should be more explicit in her character. As it's played it's just unfathomable.
I listened to Lurie's full commentary because I was so horrified/confounded by the film. At least in Peckinpah's version, I knew where he was coming from. Lurie has made films that really explore female characters like The Contender and Nothing But the Truth. Amy makes no sense. She never tells David about the rape, nor the police. This is 2011 and she grew up in this town her whole life, she doesn't think she'll be believed? Go to the hospital and get a rape kit. They have money, she can get a lawyer and sue them in civil court. Her refusal to do any of these things just confused me. Lurie claims she doesn't do this because she felt she caused the rape by taunting the men and because she's afraid that David won't do anything and she'll lose respect for him. Really? I'm sure that some women would react like that, but Amy is a successful actress from a family with money. She has a successful husband. Why wouldn't she report such a heinous crime? Give me a reason to believe this.
The film then deteriorates into the same ultra-violence as the original. However, Lurie seems to think David's motivations are completely different in this film. He uses a convoluted metaphor about the Battle of Stalingrad (which happens to be what David's film script is about) to explain why David feels forced to act. But he states these things in the commentary that are completely unclear in the film itself. It plays like a vigilante homeowner movie. It seems like Lurie wants us to pity Charlie, but he's a rapist, there's no way he gets any sympathy from me. David is such an ass to his wife, and a coward around everyone else that I can't care about him. In the end, this is a film about unlikable, sometimes unrealistic people doing terrible things to one another.
So why did Lurie remake the film? He says he made it for the opposite reason from Peckinpah, who wanted to show that men are brutal creatures who want to resort to violence. He wants to show that men are fundamentally good unless pushed too far. But the films are almost identical. Peckinpah has a clearer vision and a sharper style. Lurie's version ends up being a faded copy of an ugly, brutal original. It's painful, and I had a hard time watching it. I've appreciated some dark films, from the likes of Lars Von Trier and Catherine Breillat, even Gaspar Noe's Irreversible with it's horrific rape scene is worth seeing. This Straw Dogs is dark, ugly, flawed, and not well made. But listening to Lurie's justification for his choices (via the commentary) is really fascinating.
MOVIE SCORE: 4/10
Commentary with Writer/Director Rod Lurie
Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic
The Dynamics of Power: Cast
Inside the Siege: Stunts
Creating the Sumner House: Production Design