Straw Dogs (2011) – Review



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Unnecessary remake merely reflects original instead of doing something new with it

In 1971 Straw Dogs made a visceral impact onto cinema for its final act. A slow build about a milquetoast of a man (Dustin Hoffman) finally hitting his breaking point during a home invasion by some locals. No one had ever really done a film this violent before; the film’s director, Sam Peckinpah, had done The Wild Bunch and Arthur Penn had done Bonnie and Clyde but excessive violence in cinema wasn’t something that had been done as regularly as it’s done today. That’s why it resonated as much as it did back then; we hadn’t seen violence in the movies like Straw Dogs showcased then. Now the film isn’t so shocking, especially in the era of torture porn, and the remake is less shocking. It takes what could be a great premise and squanders it by just choosing to replay the original as opposed to doing something new with it.

The film follows the same framework as the original with some creative updating. David (James Marsden) is a screenwriter looking to work on his next film in a quiet place. When his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) suggests her childhood home in Blackwater, MS, the two trek down there for a fish out of water experience for David. The town really hasn’t changed all that much since she left; her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) runs a construction crew that is repairing their barn. As the days go on down there they seem to be targeting David and Amy for ritual humiliations. When it culminates with the group of rednecks laying siege to their home to get a developmentally disabled man (Dominic Purcell) out for some country justice turns into something much darker than they had planned it to be.

The key to the film is in the build. As the film progresses from merely intimidation to outright bullying, we’re waiting for the point for David to fight back at some point. Dealing with a foreign culture as well, we get to see him deal with what his version of masculinity is in a realm that defines it significantly different. David’s a cultured man in a city of brutes who kill things for fun and he stands out like a sore thumb. Both versions of Straw Dogs rely on the first two acts to build to the film’s blood-soaked finale; it’s in how it develops where it gets a little interesting.

The film misfires, though, in its casting of James Marsden as the wimpy David. Marsden is a leading man and could be an action hero outside of comic book films if he wanted to. Playing the cowardly writer is a bit out of character and not all that believable. It’s what made Dustin Hoffman such an inspired choice in the original; he doesn’t radiate toughness like Marsden does. Having an actor like him should necessitate some changes in the film’s basic structure, et al, to give it something unique to say but unfortunately tries to stay too close to the original.

The film doesn’t do as much with it as it could. This is a film walking through the motions of the original in a new setting as opposed to taking those and crafting them in an entirely new direction. We’ve seen this all before and this is a cast hamming it up with old material and characters. There’s nothing really new done with it; this is a film that has been dated by the advancement of violence in film and thus something new could’ve been done to spice it up.

Instead we’re given a virtual shot for shot remake of the original with just a new setting to distinguish it. There could’ve been an interesting referendum on the mature of manliness and how it’s changed in many areas of the country, and how it hasn’t in others, and the clash therein. Instead we’re given a fairly perfunctory remake that hits all the right notes but doesn’t quite have the same impact the original did. It feels unnecessary as a film, which is a shame because it could’ve been much more than it winds up.

Director: Rod Lurie
Notable Cast: Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgard, Rhys Coiro, Walton Goggins, James Woods, Laz Alonso, Dominic Purcell
Writer(s): Rod Lurie with Story by David Zelag Goodman and Sam Peckinpah based off “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams

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