Thursday, May 17, 2012

103. STRAW DOGS (2011)

"Everyone Has A Breaking Point" read the tagline for this Americanized remake of Sam Peckinpah's classic 1971 suspense thriller. It may well embody mine. I saw this film several movies back but was apparently so underwhelmed that I forgot all about it, and even now, I'm not too keen on the idea of reviewing it. In the original, based on the novel THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER'S FARM by Gordon Williams, Dustin Hoffman played an American mathematician who returns with his wife (Susan George) to her hometown in rural England, where events conspire to goad this mild-mannered intellectual into manning-up to protect, respectively, his dignity (fail), his wife (fail), and then his home against a pack of alcohol-fuelled locals, the very men his wife used to sleep with. There's more to it than that, obviously, but that's all you need to know, other than that it's the version you need to see.

Today's version of a mathematician, a screenwriter (James Marsden), finds himself in the same situation after moving with his movie star wife (Kate Bosworth) -- do you hate them yet? -- back to her ancestral farmhouse in the wide open spaces of a small town in Mississippi, though the film was shot in Louisiana. (Same difference, from a Hollywood perspective.) The same situation is reprised, but to no avail; the screenwriter's male mettle is proved early on, when no one else is looking, when he manages to shoot a deer on his first hunting trip (indeed, for the scene to work as the practical joke it's supposed to be, the local jerks -- led by a slumming but damned fit Alexander Skarsgård -- had to know him capable of doing it); when the family pet is found hung in the closet, we are denied the startling visual reveal Peckinpah gave us; when the wife is raped, in a scene that compares particularly poorly with the original, she never discloses the attack (nor does anything to fight back afterwards, which seems at odds with Bosworth's confrontational portrayal); and when the climactic siege occurs, the person being protected from the town's mob violence (Dominic Purcell as the mentally challenged Jeremy) makes such a stiff non-impression that, factored with the hero's already proven capabilities and the heroine's still more extreme retreat into herself, there is nothing to feel about what happens except "When is that bear trap coming into play?" The final straw, fortunately reserved for the very end, is that the entire issue of protecting Jeremy from mob violence is overlooked at the end, which is so fragmented we're denied real confirmation of whether he's even survived.

In all fairness, writer-director Rod Lurie's Americanization of the script is well-thought-out in many ways, and he succeeds in finding apt parallels to many of the earlier film's characters, settings and situations. The film's direction, on the other hand, feels distracted and hopelessly overextended; it's well-shot by HBO veteran Alik Sakharov (THE SOPRANOS, GAME OF THRONES), but none of the character arcs feel particularly complete or satisfying. Also on the bright side: James Woods gives 100% to his supporting role as a short-wicked, apoplectic, retired high school coach whose mood swings have the local law cowering.

Available on Sony Pictures DVD and Blu-ray. Viewed via Starz cable broadcast.


  1. Thanks, Tim. This review confirms that I needn't waste my time with this unnecessary remake. One thing: it's actually Alexander Skarsgård (Stellan's son) - I think you may have confused him with Peter Sarsgaard.

    1. I've made the correction, Michael - thanks for the attention to detail; I do appreciate it.