Warning: To get into great length about what makes Straw Dogs not work (Oh, and btw, Straw Dogs does not work) I’m going to have to get into full length about the plot and more specifically, the ending. Not just of the movie, but also the original Sam Peckinpah-Dustin Hoffman movie that inspired it. So..
SPOILERS FOR STRAW DOGS, THE REMAKE AND THE ORIGINAL
Written and Directed by Rod Lurie
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, and Alexander Skarsgaard
MPAA: R – For Strong Brutal Violence Including A Sexual Attack, Menace, Some Sexual Content, and Pervasive Language]
Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is one of the most controversial films of all time, and for good reason. In the original film, a newlywed Dustin Hoffman moves to his wife’s hometown in the rural England countryside, whereupon a group of locals, one of which being his wife’s ex-boyfriend, begin to harass the two of them in more and more extreme ways, leading up to a legendarily shocking rape scene and a violent siege scene.
It was symbolic of the intellectualism vs. aloof bruteness culture clash. It could also represent new vs. old ways, the modern world vs. the ancient world, and whatever the hell you can interpret. And apparently, writer-director Rod Lurie interpreted it as a “Blue State vs. Red State” sort of an affair, and for some reason thought that remaking it would result in the hearty discussion and moral debate that the original one inspired.
So now here’s the new and unimproved 2011 Straw Dogs, in which the mathematician Dustin Hoffman is now the Hollywood screenwriter James Marsden, the rural English Susan George is now the rural Southern Kate Bosworth, instead of the English countryside, it is a Southern hillbilly town, and instead of moral ambiguity, we get symbolism so heavy-handed that it nears outright ridiculousness.
Now, when I say that the symbolism is heavy-handed, I do not understate that. A scene in which James Marsden is shooting a deer is inter-cut with the rape of his wife by another man (Hey, I told you this is a spoiler review!), the hillbillies that represent Red State-ideals literally wave around a Confederate flag, and to top it all off, Kate Bosworth has two different colored eyes, one brown and one blue, which represents her indecision between James Marsden’s liberal lifestyle, and Alexander Skarsgaard’s more conservative-hillbilly lifestyle.
And it’s not just in terms of the themes. James Marsden’s character is a nerdy (Seriously, how do “nerdy” and “James Marsden” fit in the same senetence?) Hollywood screenwriter, and the villain that his wife used to date was once a huge football star in his high school. If that isn’t the most obvious author-insertion/wish-fulfillment fantasy I’ve ever seen, then it would only be so because it was fan-fiction.
Also, it becomes apparently obvious that Rod Lurie is just using the film as an excuse to bash conservative, Republican, Red-State ideals moreso than to make a morally-ambiguous dilemma like the original film did. The moral ambiguity of the first film has been replaced with a stereotypical view of the rural South that is almost insultingly pandering to view. Yes, I’m not a big fan of redneck hillbilly dildos either, but the way it’s portrayed in this film feels more like a parody than anything else, which is not the way this type of movie is supposed to be played.
Rather than comparing it to the original film, I could, however, just critique it as a home-invasion thriller, which is what the film has been marketed as by the cold, unfeeling, cynical studio system, but even the heavily advertised homestead siege scene is disappointing. Yeah, it’s kind of violent, and there is one memorable kill that I thought was kind of awesome, but aside from that, none of it felt brutal enough to start fawning over, and there were absolutely no thrills because I didn’t give a shit about whether or not Gary-Stu and Bitchy McBitchPants lived or died.
Before I get into the BIG FLAW of the film, let’s prepare things by being nice for once and talking about what the movie has going for it.
I appreciated that Lurie took his time to introduce all the characters and set up the small town of Blackwater, though it still doesn’t matter because you still don’t give a damn but SHUT UP I’M IN NICE MODE RIGHT NOW.
James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgaard do rather well in their respective roles. Skarsgaard is convincingly threatening without completely spelling it out to the audience, and though Marsden is miscast as a nerdy screenwriter, he still displays his usual charm and leading-man charisma even though the writing plays him off as a perfect, holy, liberal, Jesus Gary-Stu–OKAY THEN, NICE TIME OVER.
Now, here’s the big reason why the film doesn’t work.
In the original film, the most infamously shocking moment is when the ex-boyfriend comes in to rape Susan George silly. What’s shocking isn’t the rape, but what it represents, which is the neanderthal lifestyle that she used to live attempting (and succeeding) to take over her new-found civilized lifestyle with Dustin Hoffman …and also the fact that at the end of the rape you can see Susan George SMILING. Yeah, it’s a dark movie.
When the husband comes back, she doesn’t tell him because part of her is still enamored with her more masculine ex, and when they show up again in the third act for the big home-invasion sequence, she even calls to the ex-boyfriend for help at one point rather than Dustin Hoffman. In the end, Dustin Hoffman must sacrifice his intellectual, higher-moral-ground ways for his survival by taking the bad guys out, but in doing so, he loses his sense of identity and who he truly was to begin with.
In the remake, however, the wife clearly doesn’t enjoy being raped, yet STILL doesn’t tell anyone about it in the biggest dick move to “stay true to the original” to end all dick moves. And when the home-invasion sequence comes into play, yeah, it’s kind of entertaining to see a “nerdy” guy completely wreck up a gang of redneck hillbillies, but it’s all for naught because the moral dilemma of the original is replaced with the typical couple being brought together by extreme circumstances routine.
So, yeah, rather than being legitimately thought-provoking, it becomes cliche’d and derivative. What else would you expect out of a Hollywood Remake?
Final Verdict: Nonsensically written, heavy-handed in its symbolism, cynical in its stereotypical view of the American South, and removing all shreds of thought provocation from the original source, no amount of decent performances or well-shot home-invasion sequences can make up for that. These Straw Dogs need to be burned.
That is all. See ya next time! Now if you’ll excuse me, I just wanna look at Alexander Skarsgaard’s abs. Sooo dreamy…