I saw Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs three months ago, and wrote down some reactions within hours of seeing it. Now that it’s about to open, I can let them out. This new Dogs is flawed here and there, but it’s also the most visceral, straight-from-the-solar-plexus film that Lurie has ever made. And it’s spooky in a couple of ways that Sam Peckinpah, director of the original 1971 version, never divined.
At the very least Lurie’s version is a mature complement to Peckinpah’s. There’s no reason at all to trash it. It may be your cup or not, but it’s an entirely respectable work.
Warning: SPOILERS follow, but not really if you’ve seen the Peckinpah version because Lurie’s follows that film very closely.
Lurie’s is also coming from the head (i.e., reshuffling the cards from a liberal-minded position) and Gordon Williams’ book, and the rape scene has been overly fiddled with, but it’s a serious “growth film” for Rod so hats off.
Here’s exactly what I wrote on June 16th: “In some ways Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs is a more complex film that Sam Peckinpah‘s 1971 original, and I was generally pleased with it. But I just couldn’t get the Peckinpah version out of my head. It’s been finessed and finagled and modified in some ways, but it’s basically the same film that Peckinpah made only less…make that not misogynist at all.
“The truth? Rod’s film sometimes — not always but often — made me feel like I did when I was watching Gus Van Sant‘s Psycho.
“I’m sorry but I feel that Peckinpah’s siege is better handled than Rod’s (better cutting, more tension). And the key flashpoint in the siege scene is when the old blowhard drunk struggles with the local constable over a shotgun, which accidentally fires and kills the latter. Lurie decides to play this scene differently, and, in my opinion, not as well.
“Henry Niles, the village idiot, is a problem. I accepted the idea of this character in a small English hamlet in 1971, but not in the American South of 2009. And Lurie didn’t need to have him kill Janice. He just needed to put his hands under her blouse & Woods needed to see that…or see her hand-jobbing or fellating him. That’s all it would take to trigger a huge rage. And then you’d have a truly ironic situation, given the rape of Kate Bosworth by Alexander Skarsgard.
“Marsden is quite good, and is clearly more sympathetic than Hoffman’s David Summer.
“But Rod’s version isn’t as good in the matter of Amy. Sexist pig that he was, Peckinpah had Susan George‘s Amy figured out better than Rod has Kate’s worked out. Bosworth is less of a not-terribly-bright and manipulative tart but there’s something a bit vague & half-and-half about her.
“Who runs barefoot through the woods? That was ridiculous. She’s going to run barefoot over stones and sticks and pine cones and chipmunk shit?
“Amy’s striptease at the window somehow seems more blatant and teasing than Susan George pulling off her sweater. She does a slow unbuttoning thing…blatant. Not real. Too much.
“Skarsgard doesn’t hit her to make her submit during the rape? A rapist would probably do that. Lurie’s version of the rape scene feels like a p.c. intervention. It basically feels abbreviated. It’s been cut too much. And the ass-fucking aspect is completely wimped out on, I feel. This is not a nice story about nice people doing nice things. So why even make this film if your’e going to do it half-assed? Why water it down?
“All in all, Straw Dogs is somewhere between a pretty good film and a very good film, and an ADULT film…a very interesting and very intelligent re-do all in all, but it’s simply not better than Peckinpah’s version — that’s a fact. But on its own terms, it’s a full meal and intelligent and decently calibrated.”