DVD Review: Straw Dogs (2011)

If nothing else, this remake of Straw Dogs shows its audience that whether you’re in a backwater town in Britain or Mississippi, the local folks are bound to be ignorant, brutish, drunkards and downright evil.

2011’s Straw Dogs pretty much follows the same story as Sam Peckinpah’s gripping 1971 drama about a young couple returning to the woman’s hometown and get pushed too far by the local yokels. However, this time around instead of having Dustin Hoffman as a mathematician you have James Marsden as a Hollywood screenwriter. The movie is still and uncomfortable and tense, it still has that horrible rape scene (which isn’t as horrible) and that awesome bear trap scene (which isn’t nearly as awesome), but when all is said in done, Straw Dogs ‘11 is seriously lacking.

From a production standpoint this film is pretty well made. It’s got descent performances – James Woods is a highlight in the film as the belligerently drunk coach – and fine cinematography. But I think that might be part of the problem; part of what worked about Peckinpah’s was how gritty the film looked. This film is just too crisp and clean for this kind of story.

The other big problem with the film is James Marsden. He’s a decent actor, but he’s just not strong enough to carry this film. The way he portrays David Sumner you just don’t care about him as a person. The same goes for Kate Bosworth. Yes, her Amy Sumner is much more of a “modern woman,” but the choices these characters make are baffling. Alexander Skarsgard is one of the stronger performers in the film but his character is very flat. There seems to be very little purpose in his villainy. He, like most the other characters in Straw Dogs, do what they do in this film seemingly because the script told them to. More often than not logic is thrown out the window with every descision made in this film.

At the end of the day there really is just no point to this remake. Sam Peckinpah’s film was a dark, gritty, controversial film that while hard to sit through is considered a classic. This remake has already been forgotten by most.

The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. This is a fine looking film, too fine even. Yes everything is crisp and clear, but that’s not what you want in a dingy film like this.

Commentary: In the opening moments of the commentary the director admits that there is never a need to remake a movie. Do you need to listen to anything else after that? In fact he spends half the time talking about Peckinpah’s version and what he changed and why and what he thinkgs he did better. Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic: (8 min.) The filmmakers attempt to justify why they remade this film. The Dynamics of Power: Cast: (6 min.) Here everyone talks about how great everyone else was. Inside the Siege: Stunts: (7 min.) The stunts of the final siege are discussed here. Easily the most interesting of these four featurettes. Creating the Sumner House: Production Design: (4 min.) I’ll give the film this, this location of the Sumner house was very gorgeous.

As my wife put it when the film was over, “Can we watch something good now?” Whichever version of Straw Dogs you watch is going to be a tough to get through, but if you watch the original at least you’ll be watching a good film.

Screen Gems presents Straw Dogs. Written and Directed by: Rob Lurie. Based on the screenplay by: Sam Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman. Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard and James Woods. Running time: 110 min. Rating: R for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content and pervasive language. Released on DVD: December 20, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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