I recently saw the midnight release of Rod Lurie’s remake of Sam Peckinpah’s arguably best picture, Straw Dogs. I have NOT seen the original, although it has been sitting in my Netflix saved queue for some time now, but I am well read on the plotline as well as the key scenes and controversy surrounding its release. Based on the wretchedly lame trailers that have been released for the remake, (this one is awful) I did not go into the theatre with high anticipation. However, I left feeling satisfied. The remake wasn’t great and I’m sure it doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but then again not many remakes do? Lurie’s version lacks the genius direction of Peckinpah thus rendering many of the scenes hollow. However, Lurie’s script did an honorable job of sticking to the source material and not tampering with too many details to modernize it or appeal to the rating boards.
In fact, those key scenes that shocked the world in 1971 have not been removed or adjusted. You still get a terrifyingly gruesome asphyxiated cat in the closet straight from a horror movie, a brutal but not tactless rape scene, and a gritty, violent climax that takes choreography directly from the original.
Lurie made some adjustments. He kept the setting in American, changing wife Amy’s birthplace to Mississippi instead of rural England. Also, in a move that Hollywood screenwriters love to do which I find kind of annoying, Lurie changed David Sumner’s occupation from the egghead mathematician to a hot shot screenwriter with a lovely budding actress for a wife. I feel that was the most significant change to the overall theme of the story.
Lurie may not have the directing chops to give this kind of dark character tale the depth it needs but he managed to pull some good performances from his starring cast, which could be thanks to the actors only but I’ll give The Contender director the benefit of the doubt. James Marsden did a better job than I expected in the role once claimed by a young Dustin Hoffman, even though at some points our protagonist seemed a tad too unlikable. Cyclops shed his handsome, buff outer image and turned his Hollywood look into a relatively believable, non-confrontational “coward” as Amy once scolds.
Alexander Skarsgard, (sorry I don’t know how to give you that cool accent over the ‘a’) comes across often very likable as a working class guy who is down on his luck and just trying to get by the way he knows how. This becomes particularly disorienting when we see him force himself on Kate Bosworth’s character. However, I took note of a very interesting element of this infamous rape scene. I had read up on the original and saw that the scene was criticized for Amy’s apparent enjoyment of the rape towards the end. This is obviously appalling if true but as often happens, the critics got it wrong. A brilliant character trait is captured in this scene as Bosworth fights off her once high school sweetheart, whom we can assume she’s been intimate with willingly before in earlier years. But he eventually overpowers her, telling her that “it’s ok.” Bosworth struggles, pleading with Skarsgard; but then she kind of drifts off into this place far beyond the scene. Defenders of the original say Susan George’s depiction was accurate and I believe Bosworth’s was as well. The mind will do strange things when pushed to horrid places. Amy escapes to her mind, no longer struggling, perhaps accepting her current situation even if, obviously not willingly taking part.
Bosworth works wonders with her expressions in the scene. Her eyes show something fierce, a pity for Skarsgard’s character. He is someone she once was romantic with. Now, she has moved on to the love of her life and he is still clinging to fragments of what was and will, well that should never be. So he forces himself back into her, trying to find a place in her heart. He hopes she wants it as much as he. When it’s over, she gives him a look of sheer disgust at what he’s done. Skarsgard, suddenly realizing she didn’t want this and hasn’t been coming onto him as he’s suspected, falls into a chair where he has the chance to redeem himself by saving his former flame from yet another rape at the hands of another man. But he does nothing. He just sits there as Amy endures another attack.
I felt the movie was an alright remake. And those words are hard to muster. At least this one did the original material justice and brought this powerful story about man’s inner animal to the eyes of a new generation that can’t even get a hold of the original DVD on Netflix anymore. Sure it fails in parts, like a bizarre scene where Kate Bosworth flashes her naked body to her harassers in an attempt to, I guess, get back at her husband for spinelessly not putting them in their place for ogling his wife. But does giving these men a full show really put them in their place? This is the kind of immaturity that hinders and otherwise admirable remake.
Nevertheless, you’ll have chills when you reach the end to see our pacifistic anti-hero standing in his blood splattered home as he mutters the damning phrase, “Jesus, I got ‘em all.”
Madhaus Rating: 3/5 Stars