Straw Dogs (2011)

Ah, remakes.

Let me rephrase: Ah, remakes of classic films. Why is it that Hollywood never seems interested in remaking a bad film that had promise? Or putting a new spin on a not quite great film from 20 years ago? Instead they seem content to do the opposite, remake a film that represents perfection the first time out trying to catch lightning in a bottle—which is a near impossible feat, even before you take into account that a creative team is trying to improve upon the superiority that often accompanies the original. Yet, blinded by their own hubris, production studios and big name directors continue to try and cash in on an audience’s fond memories for a classic. Good Lord, how they try. Does anyone remember Gus Van Sant’s Psycho with anything other than derision? When was the last time anyone had a hankering to sit down and subject their eyeballs and mental well-being to Rupert Wainwright’s remake of the John Carpenter classic The Fog?

It is especially bothersome when this happens to a film that you hold close to your heart; a movie by a director that you have spent time reading several biographies about, and whose filmography is well represented in your DVD/Blu-ray collection, each one getting more than their fair share of spins on movie night. A film that when your friends come over, and you find that one hasn’t had the pleasure of watching it, it automatically becomes what you are viewing that evening, and no ifs, ands, or buts will sway you from your verdict. Sam Pekinpah’s 1971 Straw Dogs falls into that category for me. Rod Lurie’s remake manages to muck up all the qualities that made the original controversial and, with the passing of time, what turned it into a classic.

I venture to guess that anyone who has seen the original would agree with me when I say that the casting of this thing is as ass backward as the rednecks that most of the cast is trying to portray. This translates into successfully ruining the character dynamics that made the original work so well. Casting James Marsden in the Dustin Hoffman role of David Sumner is ridiculous. Not because he is a bad actor, he’s not, he actually has some good comedic timing and we all know he can pull off the superhero thing. But that’s the problem. He has played Cyclops in the X-Men franchise and a prince in Enchanted. The actor cast in this role needs to be nonthreatening and the audience needs to be shocked by the violence that the character becomes capable of in the 3rd act. There is something about Dustin Hoffman that made it inconceivable that he could explode, the splintering of his morals and personality resulting in him taking down the townsfolk who storm his home. They would have been better off casting a Toby Jones or Phillip Seymour Hoffman type in the role and in making this casting gaff, the director has already compromised the ending along with audience expectations.

Next up is Kate Bosworth, an actress I thought we had mercifully seen the last of. As a performer, Bosworth doesn’t have the sexual charge or ambiguity that Susan George brought to the original. Bosworth is cute and sweet, not sensual. The result of her casting is all of the uncertainty that dwells in the controversial scene in which she is assaulted by her ex is removed, as is the fascinating nature of this all important segment.  That being said, I don’t want to pile on Bosworth too badly as I’m sure it is partially the director’s fault as well. Lurie doesn’t seem interested in the sexual politics that lay beneath the surface or able to drive his actress to the level of performance that Pekinpah was able to coax out of George.

Then there is the woeful miscasting of Alexander Skarsgård. His lack of interest makes him stick out even more in a sea of bad casting decisions; hampered with the second worst accent in the movie and bad dialogue, he never had a chance to create an interesting character. Actually, I’m still trying to wrap my head around casting a modern-day sex symbol as a rapist; a wrong-headed move that—it would seem to me—the director would want to stay away from as it could allude to wish fulfillment in his audience during this pivotal moment. In fact, the only thing that works within this scene is the cross-cutting between the rape and, in a carefully planned diversion, having Sumner hunt deer with Skarsgård’s pals in the woods. Not that Lurie did a fantastic job, he only lifted it beat-for-beat from the original film.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Lurie’s South is filled with nothing more than boiler plate, cookie cutter stereotypes. The kind of characters found in straight to video pieces of junk; true Wal-Mart dollar bin movies that are a complete waste of time. If all of that wasn’t enough, add to the proceedings an over the top asshole named Coach (James Woods, eating ALL the scenery while sporting the worst southern accent by an actor since Keanu represented the Devil) with a daughter who feels like no one will touch her—played by a beautiful actress (?)—who serves as a major plot lynchpin, and a wasted Walton Goggins saddled with a 5th rate Of Mice and Men storyline, all of which resulted in this viewer’s head wanting to explode.

While all of this aggravated me down to the very core of my movie-loving being, the worst part of this film is the fact that Lurie took the source material and tried to make it sexy and titillating. Straw Dogs is neither of these things. Straw Dogs is a dark, brutal, and disturbing film, the exact opposite of everything here. By incorporating these changes, he robs the film of its essence and any resonance the film might have with an audience. The final siege, which should rack one’s nerves, is instead turned into an installment of the Saw franchise, with Skarsgård’s character meeting his maker in a way that I could only guess led to whoops and giggles in darkened movie houses all over the country. One should only cringe during Straw Dogs. Something I found myself doing repeatedly during its 110 minute running time, just for all the wrong reasons.

-David

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