It’s been years since I last watched director Sam Peckinpah’s seminal drama Straw Dogs, but it’s the kind of film that you don’t easily forget.
Peckinpah’s thriller provoked howls of outrage in 1971 for its violent content, in particular a prolonged rape scene in which the main female character, Amy (Susan George), appears to take some pleasure from her assault. Critics accused Peckinpah of misogyny. If the macho director’s goal was to generate controversy, he succeeded big time.
I don’t presume to know if “no always means no,” but I do know that the sexual question mark in Peckinpah’s movie — did Amy prefer her alpha-male assailant (an ex-boyfriend) to her pacifist husband David (Dustin Hoffman)? — was key to the film’s climax. When the couple’s home comes under siege by the rapist and his thuggish pals, suspense was derived from audience uncertainty about whether David and Amy could work together long enough to survive.
Director Rod Lurie’s remake dispenses with any questions about the pivotal rape scene. It’s clear this time that Amy (Kate Bosworth) wants no part of it. This is a politically safe viewpoint, but it also subtracts tension from the remake’s final act in which, once again, the couple’s home comes under attack.
But Lurie’s Straw Dogs is still effective because of the universal conflicts it explores. When Hollywood players David and Amy return to Amy’s hometown in rural Mississippi, the couple ignites a powder keg of culture clashes — city vs. country, privileged vs. poor, liberal vs. conservative, North vs. South, and atheist vs. believer. Pretty boy David (James Marsden) is a lightning rod for Blackwater’s football-loving, beer-guzzling good ol’ boys. And Amy is a source of constant temptation.
Marsden is convincing as a proponent of the “can’t we all just get along” school of thought, but he lacks Hoffman’s charisma. Bosworth is a credible small-town-girl-turned-TV-star, but she also projects a bland personality. Hoffman and George were unforgettable. I’ll remember them, but I won’t remember this remake. Grade: B-
Director: Rod Lurie Cast: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins Release: 2011
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