Thursday, 8 December 2011
Review : Straw Dogs (2011)
L.A. screenwriter David Sumner relocates with his wife to her hometown in the deep South. There, while tensions build between them, a brewing conflict with locals becomes a threat to them both.
(Brief History Lesson : In 1971, legendary Director Sam Peckinpah shocked audiences worldwide with STRAW DOGS. At the time, the films violence was pretty extreme, but it was the films unflinching look at male aggression that got the censors dicks in knots. Not to mention a rape scene in which the victim appears to be quite enjoying the whole thing. Long story short, the film was banned for 25 years, and finally found its home on DVD. End of lesson. Now onto the review.....)
Another hangover....another unnecessary remake. That's two for two in so many days.
I cant complain too much though, some of these recent remakes have been ego-crashingly good. FRIGHT NIGHT and MOTHERS DAY are sitting proudly atop that list. And while there will always be cash grab movies that piss all over the intent and artistry of the originals, (NIGHTMARE ON SHIT STREET), there seems to be a greater trend of late towards actually paying respect to the original works. Basically, it seems the less remakes are made by those fuck-nuts at Platinum Dunes, the better our cinematic environment shall be.
This much hyped, yet entirely unwanted remake of STRAW DOGS fits neatly into that strange category inhabited by LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and DAWN OF THE DEAD. Yep, its the 'Pointless, Yet Respectful Remake, That Doesn't Shit All Over Horror History', remake....
Now I'm not too sure, but in my circles the original STRAW DOGS isn't very well known, or particularly beloved. It barely merits being labelled a Horror film, and as great as the film is, it seems to be verging on the forgotten. Its a shame, because it really IS a great film. It plays as more of an intellectual treatise on the male condition, or more accurately, the perception of masculinity in modern society, than an outright Horror/Revenge thriller. Don't get me wrong, if you havent seen it, its a pretty vicious film, and at the time if its creation, it was pretty fucking fearless, (it was banned in the UK for 25 years for a reason), but its not QUITE a Horror movie, per-se. It lacks the exploitative kicks of similarly themed works like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and instead takes a more thoughtful path into darkness and vengeance. All of this can be said for the remake., too, yet in some very important ways its an entirely different beast. Let me explain....
As I mentioned in the brief history up-top, the original film was directed by legendary hard-case and all around macho nut-job, Sam Peckinpah, and it shows. While both films deal with the nature of masculinity, its very clear that both directors are coming from a different perspective. Sam's take on the material is far more elemental. He sees man as an essentially violent and aggressive beast that has merely been caged by social mores, essentially looking for an excuse to attack, whereas Director, Rod Lurie sees violence as something forced upon man by his surroundings. Both ideals are very valid, and both are worth exploring, and its for this reason that the remake of STRAW DOGS is actually a very worthwhile watch. Its nice to see a different take on very similar material. In fact, its fascinating.
Both movies follow the same template almost beat for beat, yet the feel is subtly different. This new version seems to represent a sign of our times, in which men are a more domesticated beast. Less prone to acts of rage or retaliation. At least some men....
See, each and every male character in this remake is a male 'type' We have the upstanding, upper-middle class writer who tends to avoid violence at all costs, as he sees it as a sign of intellectual weakness, and we have the more rugged male types that occupy the town of 'Wherever the fuck'. Men who see the lack of physical action as a sign of physical weakness. Both are right and both are wrong, but what makes the whole thing so interesting is that although these men are 'types', they are never one dimensional. The rednecks who taunt and humiliate our protagonist are more than simply mindless cretins. They feel like real people. Dickheads yes, but not dickheads without charm and/or wit. The same can be said for the victim of their taunts. He could be viewed as a coward, but that's all a matter of perception. Is taking the higher moral ground a sign of weakness? And if not, what and where is the line that can be crossed when intellect has to take a back seat to good old-fashioned bloodshed?
These questions and more make this version a journey worth taking. Its a slow-paced film, and some will surely find the whole thing tedious and cliched, but it does have a brain working behind the scenes, if you choose to look for it. If your looking for an ultra-gory rape-revenge tale like the recent, (and awesome) remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, you'd best look elsewhere. STRAW DOGS has very little violence, and what little is does have, all takes place during the finale. When it hits, it hits hard, yet its impact is more on an emotional level than a visceral one.
While some may find the slow-burn style of storytelling monotonous, many will enjoy it for what it is...a well-crafted build of suspense and discomfort that efficiently draws you into the story and the characters, before the inevitable collision of ego's and ideas that makes up the brilliant finale.
The performances are all tip-top, including a surprisingly believable turn by Cyclops himself, James Marsden. He plays David, the smart and decent husband perfectly, and the gradual deterioration of his calm is pretty damn enthralling to watch. Ive only ever seen this guy in X-MEN, so I was pleased as punch to find out that he's a talented actor who has more arrows in his bow than simply playing second fiddle to Wolverine. He's great. As his counterpoint, the charming yet imposing redneck, 'Charlie', Alexander Skarsgard is equally engaging. Not only does the guy have towering presence, he imbues his rough, old-school tough guy with pathos, intelligence, and even regret. This is a human being in all respects. You'll hate the fucker, but you'll recognise him.
On the completely opposite side of the 'authentic' spectrum is James Woods, of all people, playing the now-retired football coach who's something of a legend around hicks-ville. For some reason, good-ole James seems to think he's in an exploitation movie, and he overacts in every single scene he's in. Where all the other characters have depth and subtlety, Woods is a cartoon character. A caricature that threatens to sink the whole damn movie. I love the guy but this is not his finest hour. Were everyone else not fighting in heavyweight, Woods performance would ruin the feel of the film. Luckily, everyone ignores his overacting like the drunk uncle at Christmas dinner, and instead concentrate on making an effective thriller.
So there you have it, a remake no one wanted, yet everyone seems to have an opinion on. Is it a 'nature vs nurture' thesis? A study of masculinity in modern America? A look at what drives a man to violence? Or simply a misogynistic piece of trash that should be burned in a bonfire? Who the fuck knows. All I know is, I enjoyed it a great deal. Its hasn't got the balls of the Peckinpah original, but it doesn't aim to have them. Its a remake that will most likely be thought to be an original by today's audiences, and that's cool. Yet of your one of those who hasn't seen either version and are reading this, you really are better off sticking with the original. This version is good, but the original remains the superior film. Sadly, for many that will render this remake obsolete, when it deserves some loving. If you enjoy contrasting, or are a fan of the original and would like to see it from a different viewpoint, check it out. Its a solid work.
7 Bra-less Joggers out of 10