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Movie Review: 'Straw Dogs'

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“Straw Dogs”
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Dominic Purcell, James Woods, Willa Holland, Laz Alonso, Walton Goggins, Rhys Coiro, Anson Mount
Rated: R

Director Sam Peckinpah was one of the American new wave film directors who emerged in the 1960s.

He had directed several things for TV - episodes of “The Rifleman,” “The Westerner” and “Zane Grey Theater” - before he did his breakout film, “The Wild Bunch,” in 1969. He did the near impossible. He created his own genre and affected the old one (the  western) at the same time.

The visceral violence in “The Wild Bunch” was shocking, and Peckinpah's stylized direction made viewers know there was a new form of filmmaking in the works.

Then, in 1971, he co-wrote and directed “Straw Dogs,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. It's not very bloody  - far from a drive-in shriekfest like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - but it is intense and very unsettling on an emotional level. That kind of scary is more real to me than any “monster” movie. Bad people are the scariest monsters, and the trio that breaks into the house (in the original and the remake of “Straw Dogs”) are monsters of the first degree.

I'm not completely opposed to remakes, updates and re-does, but there are certain films that I can't tolerate even thinking about someone remaking.  Thank heaven no one will ever update “Casablanca,” “The Godfather” or “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

I was skeptical when approaching director Rod Lurie's remake of Peckinpah's “Straw Dogs,” but by the film's end, I was thinking I might like this new version better than the original.

There are slight differences in Lurie's “Straw Dogs,” but nothing that matters. In the original, Dustin Hoffman plays the timid, nearly pacifist lead character, David Sumner, a mathematician. Here David is a writer of Hollywood screenplays. The common bond between the two Davids in the films is the fact they are both perceived - by their attackers - as intellectuals.

It seems there's nothing a crazy, violent psychopath hates more than an intellectual.

The setting in the original was in England. In the new version, it's Mississippi and the villains are not English sadists but Southern rednecks.

Lurie keeps true to the form. These rednecks are quite sadistic - dumber than the Englishmen in the original but every bit as evil.

David and his wife, Amy, have just occupied a dream home in the small Mississippi town where Amy grew up.

David plans  to relax, get away from the rat race and settle down and write. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.

The house needs a lot of work, so David hires a local crew led by Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), who dated Amy in high school. He still has feelings for her. And those feelings start to boil over.

The plot doesn't stoop to the “she was asking for it” line of thinking but does hint that Amy enjoys being an attractive woman.

Things go from bad to worse, and Amy is raped by two of the workers.

David turns from the rather meek and mild man he's always been to a man who wants justice and revenge. And he gets the job done.

“Straw Dogs,” which is based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams, is a disturbing, thought-provoking film. I liked squirming to this new version as much I enjoyed wincing at the original.[[In-content Ad]]

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