Movie Review: Straw Dogs

By Stephen Rebello

The remake of this violent 1971 film is faithful to the original but flattens out the rest.

Director: Rod Lurie Rating: R Studio: Screen Gems

Forty years after Straw Dogs first hit theaters it remains one of director Sam Peckinpah’s most troubling, insidious, get-under-the-skin films. The 1971 movie, screenwriter David Zelag Goodman’s adaptation of Gordon William’s novel The Siege at Trencher’s Farm, starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as a troubled couple who move to rural England to escape political protests and strife but run afoul of backward locals and are eventually forced to battle for their lives. Violence is inescapable. The movie prickled with class conflict and political angst and it sparked critical and public outrage for its violence, particularly a complex and controversial rape scene. What’s more, it got released in the aftermath not only of the frenzy that erupted over Peckinpah’s 1969 masterwork The Wild Bunch but also amid devastating political assassinations, the debacle of Vietnam, a resurging feminist movement and widespread political protests. It made its mark.

For our less nuanced times, Rod Lurie has directed a Straw Dogs remake that is quite faithful to the original script in incident but pretty much flattens out and tarts-up everything else that made the thing so disturbing in the first place. James Marsden plays a successful screenwriter (Hoffman was a history teacher, big difference) who relocates to the rural Mississippi childhood home of his pretty wife, Kate Bosworth. Tensions simmer and come to an explosive head when they interact with the insular, suspicious locals. Affable, good guy Marsden hires the construction crew headed by of one of Bosworth’s ex boyfriends, played with scene-stealing intensity from Alexander Skarsgard, to repair their roof.

More trouble brews. Well, what can one expect when the town’s populace includes not only the brooding Skarsgard but also James Woods as a ginned-up ticking bomb of a high school athletics coach? Unlike the original, this Straw Dogs is routinely shot and edited and completely misses the wider implications of the material. Although Marsden and Bosworth are good and Skarsgard is terrific, in the end, the movie plays like just another home invasion thriller. The movie itself is a straw dog.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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