Without the genius of director Sam Peckinpah, there would be no John Woo or Walter Hill movies. There would never have been The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia or Straw Dogs without Peckinpah. Now we have Straw Dogs without Peckinpah. Some may say "homage," I say "blasphemy."
Peckinpah's 1971 Straw Dogs was his most enigmatic, open wound of a movie, complete with commentary on bigotry, racism, social and religious dysfunction, (and if you look deep enough, health care). Peckinpah's hard drinking and hard life influenced his filmmaking style and perpetual "last man standing" theme, be it against the changing time, the protection of one's home or the preservation of self-respect. It wasn't just the stories; it was Sam's vision through cinematic styling that made his films shine with a kind of dignity. He has every right to be spinning in his grave.
Based on a book called Siege at Trencher's Farm, Straw Dogs unfolds as an iconic tale of man's violence toward man. It originally detailed the attempt of an American professor (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife (Susan George) to return to the tranquility of her childhood home only to be confronted by mayhem and destruction. Director Rod Lurie has moved the setting to the Deep South, with way more beautiful people, pairing off rednecks and intellectuals. Now as a screenwriter, James Marsden is amiable as the lead, compared with Hoffman's mathematician nebbish bookworm. Kate Bosworth, although good, is no George, who emanated promiscuous flirty sexual undercurrents. Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) dutifully shows off his ability to act steamy and take his shirt off, but that's about it.
I wondered as I watched, if this wasn't a remake of a movie in my top five movies of all times, would I like it? The honest answer is, I can't tell. It's a gallant effort and it creates a certain overall mood and creepiness, but it lacks the tension from the original, which was a very powerful and controversial movie for its time. In the last 40 years, we have become desensitized to onscreen violence. Let's see if people are still talking about this version 40 years from now. Time will tell. I guess in the sea of bad movies I'm accustomed to viewing, this one might've been a standout. The only problem is, based on my prior knowledge of and commitment to Peckinpah's version, I'll never know.
Starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth,
Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods.
Directed by Rod Lurie. Rated R