Straw Dogs (remake, of course)

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Remo D
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Straw Dogs (remake, of course)

Post by Remo D » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:33 am

Well, I had quite the annoying experience yesterday. I had somehow managed to catch up with APOLLO 18 after skipping it for two weekends in a row... and then I thought I was going to go two-for-two that very same evening. See, the paper said that a multiplex in the next town over was actually showing the mega-flop CREATURE and that I still had a chance to see that sucker on the big screen. So off I went--only to find that the paper was in error and that CREATURE wasn't playing ANYWHERE. Well, since I had already made the trip... let's see... SHARK NIGHT in 2D? Nah, it was still two hours away, and besides, my son would never forgive me if I saw that movie without him. Hmmm... STRAW DOGS? That started ten minutes ago, but with the trailers and everything, I bet I'm just in time... oh, what the hell.

The timing was perfect... I got into the theatre just as the umpteenth presentation of the trailer for IN TIME was winding down (I'm SO tired of that one). As for the movie itself? I had originally considered skipping it... yes, I was curious, but I got the impression from the trailers that it was going to be a reasonably faithful but somewhat watered-down remake of a film that worked quite well enough the first time around. I simply didn't think that a remake of STRAW DOGS could retain its impact after five DEATH WISH films and too many remakes and spinoffs of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE showing up in between the two versions.

Once again, I was wrong. Completely wrong.

Rod Lurie's take on STRAW DOGS is, indeed, a reasonably faithful adaptation of the Sam Peckinpah film (which, in turn, was based on a novel by Gordon M. Williams, which I have not read). It's been updated and transplanted to contemporary deep Mississippi, our mathemetician hero David Sumner (James Marsden) is now a screenwriter, and his restless wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) is now a TV starlet--and the ex-beau of contractor Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard). Other than that, events play out exactly as they did in the Peckinpah original.

The trailers for this remake boiled things down to the "siege" elements, leading me to suspect that the most delibrately confrontational material had been toned down (hey, if Amy and Charlie had previously been an item, there's the motivation right there, no?), but such is not the case. We go from the unavoidable "if you're dressed like that, can you blame them for looking?" debate to a deliberate act of provocation on Amy's part (Susan George took it further from the perspective of the audience than does Bosworth, but the point is undiminished), which leads to the shocking centerpiece that originally landed the original an X rating--Lurie's staging is equally disturbing without being gratuitous. This is, of course, paralleled by the naive young woman (a cheerleader for the local football team in this version) who unwisely plays on the misguided affections of slow-witted Dominic Purcell (in the David Warner role). And through it all, David makes it painfully clear to the locals that he considers himself "above" them in every way--he'll take time out for their customs when it suits him, he'll walk away when it doesn't... what? They've got a PROBLEM with him? Anything to avoid a confrontation...

Okay, some of the changes work better than others. You get today's usual acknowledgement of cell phones and where they can and can't work, but I loved it when David attempted to use a credit card at a pep rally hotdog stand. Lurie's script occasionally talks down to the audience (we get a detailed explanation of the title and a lesson on Russian history--David is writing a movie about Stalingrad--meant to parallel the inevitable climax of the film), and while there's a dramatic reason for it, forgive me for saying this, but I don't believe that this particular town would have elected a black sheriff (war hero or not). I was also concerned that the fate of one important character wasn't properly clarified at the fadeout.

These points, however, are purely trivial. The cast is uniformly excellent (yes, my reservations concerning Bosworth lingered all the way back to SUPERMAN RETURNS, but she's in top form here), and the casting of James Woods in the Peter Vaughan role as the hot-tempered "Coach" Hedden is the "Game Over" play to end all "Game Over" plays--this is one performance you simply must see for yourself. And Lurie demonstrates mastery over his handling of the necessary violence and brutality--there's nothing here to make an audience cheer, and even though I knew how the story was going to turn out, the final blow still knocked me for the proverbial loop--I exited the theatre reeling.

Is this remake "better" than the original? Roger Ebert certainly thinks so, and I highly recommend his review--it's one of his most insightful and I certainly relate to it (though I was in the camp that appreciated the original from the beginning). I can't go that far myself--Lurie was paying obvious respect to a director who had been there first; without that template, this would not have been the film that it was. And what it is is a film that will disturb today's viewers just as the original did in its own day.

Except--what viewers? I saw this in a mainstream multiplex in prime time on a Saturday night, and the place was all but DESERTED. Maybe I went two-for-two after all... but I think I got a better deal than I would have with CREATURE.


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