It’s a testament to the power of Straw Dogs’ story (Sam Peckinpah’s adaptation of Gordon Williams’ novel) that the 2011 remake is still entertaining despite its numerous shortcomings in both complexity and artistry to its predecessor. Director Rod Lurie’s retelling trades conflicted characters and intricate ideals of bravery and cowardice with plain-dealing motives and basic revenge; Peckinpah’s flair for operatic visuals is sadly absent. So too is the contemplative nature of the whole affair – the ambiguity and subtleties within every character’s actions have been replaced with spoon-fed notions of right and wrong. It’s impossible to avoid comparison to the original film, and doing so would be a disservice to the discerning viewer. Those that loved Peckinpah’s creation will likely find little value in Lurie’s version, but for those who haven’t seen it, the remake does offer a humble taste of the brilliance you’re missing out on.
Screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) move to her old hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi with the hopes of peace and quiet so he can write his newest script. When Amy’s former boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) and his buddies Bic (Drew Powell), Chris (Billy Lush), and Norman (Rhys Coiro) are hired to repair the Sumners’ garage, the bullying of David and unwelcome advances toward Amy begin. As the taunts and threats steadily escalate to a horrific act of violence, David must take a stand and defend his new home with an equal force of savagery.
Everything questionable, objectionable and controversial about the original Straw Dogs has been finely filtered out, leaving a straightforward, simple revenge story. None of the artistic violence, symbolic editing or jarring music remains. This update goes so far as to spell out the significance of the title, as well as adding the line “maybe you should wear a bra,” which drastically dumbs down the purpose of Amy’s appearance. If it weren’t for the fact that the target audience is likely to have no knowledge of the 1971 version’s existence, this level of defining, dulling and allaying disputatious content would be insulting. Extra references to the predominant themes, such as the inclusion of research on Stalingrad, further add to the intellectual affront.
Minor details have changed but the basic ideas are still present. Some of the original dialogue is reused (including snippet jokes that are no longer relevant), several scenes are nearly identical, a few props reappear, and even a couple of camera angles pay homage to Sam Peckinpah’s vision. The competition, power struggle, vigilantism, Of Mice and Men subplot, conflict with religion, psychological breaking point examination and underdog vengeance aren’t forgotten, however, and it’s hard not to admire the cathartic power of the hero rising to the occasion and giving the villains what they so desperately deserve. It’s essentially a two-hour, disturbing, suspenseful build to an explosive conclusion – one that abruptly stops when the last antagonist has fallen. But it’s also difficult for Marsden to compete with Hoffman and for director/screenwriter Rod Lurie to match the originality and creativity of Peckinpah’s turbulent classic.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
Click HERE to read the review of Straw Dogs (1971)