Based on Gordon Williams' novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm, the original Straw Dogs film was released in 1971 and starred a young Dustin Hoffman as an American escaping violence. He and his English wife move to her hometown of Wakely, England, and realize that no matter where you go, you still have to deal with violence.
The latest version of Straw Dogs plays true to most of the strengths of the first — violence, religion, social mores and manhood — but also harkens to our society today.
In the 2011 Straw Dogs, James Marsden is David, a Hollywood screenwriter looking for a quiet place to work. He buys the Deep South childhood home of his wife Amy (played by Kate Bosworth). Once there he commissions some of the local men, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), Norman (Rhys Coiro), Chris (Billy Lush), and Bic (Drew Powell) to repair the home’s barn. The men take a liking to Amy, and that is when the violence ensues.
Rounding out the cast are a beefed-up Laz Alonso as Sheriff Burke, James Woods as has-been Coach Hedden, Dominic Purcell as mentally challenged and handsome Jeremy Niles, and Willa Holland as Janice, Coach Heddon's fast-tail daughter.
Rod Lurie’s remake really is a thinking person’s film. Just because Blackwater, Miss., is a small town, doesn't mean it’s a safe place to live. Charlie, Norman, Chris, and Bic (otherwise known as the gang) are walking contradictions of the worst sort. Why is it that Sheriff Burke, the town’s token black man has to be the first to die? Prior to that, Amy is raped. Rape is a violent crime and is never justified. But one has to wonder what Amy was thinking when she showed the men her breasts prior to their violent act. Amy isn’t asking to be raped. Still one wonders what she’s hoping to accomplish by showing her business.
According to David, Straw Dogs refers to an old Chinese custom in which the people make dogs out of straw as offerings to the gods. Before the straw dogs are offered up, they are treated with the utmost of respect. Once they have been offered to the gods, the straw dogs are cast to the side and treated badly.
The same holds true for Charlie and the gang. They were once shining high school football stars. Now they are unemployed and bitter about the dull turn of their lives. So, they take out their frustrations on David, who personifies what they could never attain: the beautiful wife, the $100,000 sports car, the big house and a Harvard degree.
Straw Dogs, a complex film, shines a light on what we hold to be true as well as its dark side. It is also about a man learning how to stand up for himself by using the strongest asset he has: his brain. What’s best about this film is that it makes you think. No character is fully wrong or right. And just because something looks sweet, innocent, and respectable, doesn’t mean that it is.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment/2011 CTMG, Inc.
UNDER ASSAULT: Kate Bosworth as 'Amy Sumner' and James Marsden as 'David Sumner' in Screen Gems' Straw Dogs.