Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs


Reviewed by: Donald Munro

As a remake, Straw Dogs (2011) dilutes the power of the 1971 film and also fails to address the problematic aspects of the original. Straw Dogs was controversial because of the two consecutive rapes and the violence of the last scenes.

In the original Dustin Hoffman plays David Sumner, an American peacenick mathematician. He and his wife Amy (Susan George) have moved to her old home village in rural Cornwall. David's character evolves from a position of questioned masculinity to full red blooded maleness through the extreme acts of violence at the end of the film. Sumner (James Marsden) in the remake starts off with his masculinity expressed by the sport car he drives, the wife he flaunts and the money he splashes around. A Hollywood writer, he is working on the script for a film about the ferocious defence of Stalingrad. This greatly diminishes the character's transition and waters down one of the major points of the original. The remake it is not about Sumner's transformation wakening the violence of his inner masculinity and whether that is good thing to have happened. It is about conflicting versions of masculinity. There are two competing and stereotypical visions: upper middle class urban and rural American.

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Along with these versions of masculinity the contrasts between the way Sumner and his wife (Kate Bosworth) live and act and the way things are done in "Hicksville" are layered onto the film with a trowel. They couldn't be more obvious or cliched. The types of cars people drive, the types of beer they drink, the music they listen to, sport, religion and hunting all serve to pigeonhole the characters rather than develop them. The contrasts cause the friction between the Sumners and the locals that leads to their intimidation and the rapes of Amy and the violent finale.

The first of the two rapes is by Amy's former lover Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) and the second is by his friend Norman (Rhys Coiro). These rape scenes, considering the changing times, are just about as problematic as those in the original film where Amy appears to start to enjoy the first rape. Here the camera focuses on Skarsgård's bronzed body, his muscles and six pack. Amy doesn't protest much, doesn't seem too upset. The second rape is by a skanky guy with an ugly beard. This leaves Amy distraught. So rape is okay if it is done by a good looking former lover and bad if it's by someone you don't fancy. I don't think it works like that. What sort of message does that send out? Then there is the implication that Amy brings it on herself by wearing skimpy clothes and by flashing her rapists.

With everything that's wrong with Straw Dogs (2011) there isn't much the cast can do to save it, and they don't seem capable of doing that. I couldn't bring myself to care about any of the major characters. By the time of the rape scenes I'm thinking just get onto the final battle that all the Stalingrad stuff is pointing at. But first there is meet the rapists, a mentally disabled guy accidentally kills a girl and there's a car crash. The car crash is a problem. You get to see a big open fracture which anaesthetises you to the damage done to people. This pours even more water onto the ending.

Dramatically, the ending is a disappointment. The power of the on screen violence is undermined by the extensive use of guns. It makes the violence less personal and therefore less powerfull. There is also an emphasis on violence against property. What he owns defines the man. Before the Sumners' house is stormed their barn is in flames and their car has been vandilised, set alight and exploded. It's almost as if the damage to property is more important than the damage to people, both pysically and mentaly.

Everything that was wrong with the original is wrong with the remake. Everything that was right with the original is wrong with the remake too.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2011
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Remake sees a couple under siege in an isolated farmhouse.
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Read more Straw Dogs reviews:

David Graham ****

Director: Rod Lurie

Writer: Rod Lurie, David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah, Gordon Williams

Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins, Anson Mount, Drew Powell, Kristen Shaw, Megan Adelle, Randall Newsome

Year: 2011

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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