Straw Dogs Blu-ray Review
Written by Joel Harley
Blu-ray released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Directed by Rod Lurie
Written by Rod Lurie
2011, Region B, 110 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 12 March 2012
James Marsden as David Sumner
Kate Bosworth as Amy Sumner
Alexander Skarsgard as Charlie
James Woods as Tom Heddon
Dominic Purcell as Jeremy Niles
Middle class screenwriter David Sumner and actress wife Amy relocate to the small Southern town where she grew up. David proceeds to make himself popular by acting like a condescending tool to the locals and an insecure (and still condescending) tool to his wife. Polite but sinister builder Charlie doesn't take too kindly to Sumner's rude city-boy ways, and tensions soon rise to boiling point. Literally, as the case may be, in one scene which involves a face and some scalding hot fat.
Rod Lurie's lurid remake of the 1971 classic of the same name transfers the action from gloomy rural England to hot Southern America. Its stars are given a Hollywood gloss too – gone are the nerdy looking Dustin Hoffman and sultry Susan George, replaced with hunky James Marsden and skinny Kate Bosworth. The film hits some of the same beats as its predecessor, but the newfound sheen leaves it incapable of offence. Its Blackwater, Mississippi is more reminiscent of True Blood's Bon Temps or Justified's Harlan than the original film's sinister Emmerdale overtones. Indeed, it even shares its actors with those very same American TV shows. The recent over-abundance of small Southern towns in television and film leaves Straw Dogs feeling familiar and a less alien environment than it could have been.
The infamous rape scenes return, as does an attempt to court controversy in the film's suggestion of consensual non-consent. Undeniably unpleasant as it might be, it feels watered down this second time around – an inevitably diminished return. Like the I Spit On Your Grave re-do, it brings Hollywood gloss to a story in which that gloss isn't particularly appropriate. It was the grim grittiness that made Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs such a powerful piece. It will play best to those unfamiliar with the original Straw Dogs. And taken on its own merits as a whole, Lurie's piece is a gripping, intelligent and very well cast psychological action thriller.
Straw Dogs' strongest suit is its actors. Marsden does well as the nerd turned action man. He plays the most unlikeable person in the film (no mean feat, considering that the rest are mostly would-be murderers and rapists) but is strong enough to remain a watchable presence in spite of Sumner's attitude. Bosworth is given less to do, but to her credit, Amy never feels like a victim. Some of this feistiness would not have gone amiss in Superman Returns. Alexander Skarsgard exudes the same sinister magnetism here as he does in True Blood, while James Woods is great as the angry town coach, bringing the film a touch of class. Walton Goggins pops up in an all-too brief role, disappearing inexplicably before the finale. Then, letting the side down, is Dominic Purcell. Even playing to his strengths (he's the village idiot) he drains the film of its atmosphere and tension. His role in the film is essentially to go off and remake Of Mice and Men while the grown-ups play. The storylines converge towards the end with much unbearable wailing and howling from Purcell.
The siege aspect of the story best benefits from the remake. People go around shouting 'Jeremy Niles!' far too much (I never want to hear that name again) but it's a tense, brutal and thrilling series of events that brings the film to a bombastic, explosive and believable conclusion. Unlike Peckinpah's grimmer, darker movie, Straw Dogs is enjoyable and entertaining - inappropriately so, at times. The horror of the characters' actions does not sit well alongside their prettiness, their surroundings or the thrills of the action sequences.
As Kate Bosworth jogs barefoot down a county road in her skimpiest clothing to the tune of 'Never Forget You' by The Noisettes (making the viewer complicit in the leer of her soon-to-be rapists) it's hard to shake the feeling that you're just watching a movie. And a very pretty movie it is too.
Ultimately, in trading Dustin Hoffman's dodgy parka for James Marsden's designer specs, Straw Dogs feels like yet another slice of backwoods horror.
Video and Audio:
The town of Blackwater and its inhabitants look fantastic on Blu-Ray. Between the glistening foreheads and spreading sweat patches, the heat is palpable. It sounds great too, although some of the music seems inappropriate.
A number of detailed featurettes show how much thought went into making the film. 'Courting Controversy' is a broad Making Of documentary, while 'The Dynamics of Power' examines individual character motivations. 'Inside the Siege' documents the action sequences, while 'Creating the Sumner House' is a Through The Keyhole style look at the main characters' home and its role in the movie. A director's commentary and trailers round off an altogether impressive package.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are publicity stills and not a reflection of the Blu-ray image.*