Those Mississippi rednecks are so much more vicious than those ones from England. Well that’s if there are such things as rednecks from England.
David Sumner (James Marsden), a Hollywood screenwriter moves with his newly wedded wife, Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth), to her hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi. During their stay they meet with Amy’s former high school sweet heart Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) and his red neck friends. Of course hunting is in season and jealousy arises pushing everyone to their breaking point.
Having been a fan of the original Sam Peckinpah film, I went into this with very high expectations even though I knew everything that was going to happen. However, when it comes to remaking classics, I will never trust writer/director Rod Lurie ever again.
The original is all about the idea of non-violence and how far that idea will go until somebody eventually snaps and decides to take violence into their own hands. This film does not really express that idea one bit, instead, it just wants to be over-the-top. There is no subtlety here at all with this flick as we find out what the meaning for the term “Straw Dogs” means, seeing that all of the rednecks are basically one-note villains the whole time who do barbaric things such as hunting when it’s not hunting season or cutting the antlers of deers, and having a random sub-plot with a mentally-challenged kid, played by Dominic Purcell, that eventually leads into the grand-finale.
The film is very obvious with many parts that have David just looking terribly out-of-place. I mean the guy has the fancy Jaguar, listens to the orchestrated music, has a problem with people coming into his house and talking to him, and puts on a robe and slippers just to go out onto the ladder to talk to the guys working on his roof. I mean I got it that he was a nerd, but to constantly hit me over the head telling me what he is, was just annoying.
Where Lurie messed up with this film is that he spells way too many things out and where he could have actually developed characters and made their relationships understandable, he just focuses on trying to build up tension. Building up tension is fine in many cases, but here, we need something for us to actually be able to root for these characters and understand why they are the way they are and why these people are doing the things that they do.
However, I can bag on Lurie too much considering there good elements to this film as well. There are moments where the film will just focus on the couple of David and Amy, where you think it will just be them expressing their love and trying to be all cute but instead you get some pretty interesting moments. One moment is when Amy is running around in barely anything and is mad that the guys are looking at her (but come on, could you blame them?!?) but David then replies by telling her that she should have wore bra. This pisses her off and for once we see David looked at into a negative-light from Amy’s point-of-view which I thought was very intelligently handled because you don’t get to see much of that with any film that has a married couple, let alone couple, actually talking or being like that with one another in a very well-handled way. Lurie has many moments where he shines but others he just drops the ball.
If you have already seen the original then it’s basically known that the infamous rape scene is in here and it is used in a different way then it was in the original which is not a very bad thing because it was still used for great effect. Lurie makes this rape scene seem very graphic and very hard-to-watch which it should have been even if it was handled in a “tasteful way”. After this happens, the film starts to pick up some steam. Lurie creates some very good tension with many of these scenes including the end where the shit practically hits the fan. This was used a lot better in the original, but I still found myself behind this couple and cheering every time something cruel happened to the bad-guys.
However, my problem with the last act is the fact that I think it happens way too quickly and suddenly for it to actually make any real sense. I mean everybody gets real pissed, real quick and it almost seems like this violence was just something they always resort to when they don’t get their way. The ending is also way too abrupt where I was kind of hoping for some sort of epilogue or resolution to where we see David and Amy all happy that they got past all of these rednecks. It was a great build-up for Lurie but in the end of the film, he actually just loses it which was a tad disappointing.
Having James Marsden fill the shoes of a role that was originally played by Dustin Hoffman is like going from Pepsi to Max Cola, but I think this is the best I’ve seen him yet. Marsden is playing this sensitive and very soft guy that is trying so hard to prove to his hot, new, and young wife that he’s got what it takes to be “one of the guys” even though he doesn’t want anything to do with hunting or getting sweaty. When Marsden goes crazy at the end of the film, you feel the tension and anger coming off of his character and that works a whole lot considering that this character needed that psycho look in him.
Kate Bosworth is also a pretty good choice as Amy because she is both sexy and flirtatious at the beginning of the film, but then soon becomes very damaged and scared by the end of the flick. This is probably the best I’ve seen Bosworth, which isn’t saying much but she still is good here with the transitioning of her character. Her real-life boy-toy Alexander Skarsgård plays the main bad-guy Charlie who is staring intently about 50% of the whole film but is still pretty good. I thought that James Woods was completely over-the-top in his scenery-chewing role as the ex-football coach who starts almost all of this shit every time he’s on screen and just kept making me wonder on whether or not I should have laughed or taken his role seriously.
Consensus: The cast does a fine job with their roles and the tension builds up very well in the last half, but Straw Dogs is a remake that suffers from being too obvious, glorifying its violence to the point of where it seems almost forced, and moments where Rod Lurie loses his ideas of what he’s trying to say and instead just leaves them hanging without any real explanation as to why they were in the film in the first place. Stick with the original.