Straw Dogs finds us in alpha male territory where fight or flight no longer applies and reason, it seems, has long left the building. It’s a culture with a pre-determined order, reinforced through violence, Old Testament style violence, and in the mythical small town of Blackwater, Mississippi the men folk can be all too easily offended by the mere presence of an outsider. Particularly one that brings back their high-school sweetheart. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are the Hollywood newly weds about to get a lesson in Southern hospitality.
Director Rod Lurie confidently slips on the shoes of big man Peckinpah, and for the most part does a fine job walking in them. It’s just that those shoes were made for kicking and stomping not walking. Firebrand Director Sam Peckinpah, who co-wrote and directed the 1971 original framed it at a time when the USA was all too happy to claim justifications for the violence in the American Invasion on Vietnam. His film invited controversy and insulted many along the way, not least for that she-was-asking-for-it rape scene. Here we lose that strategic dimension and are presented with the same violent confrontation but it’s brought about through a clash of stereotypical portraits of secular liberalism and the religious right of the Deep South in a vain effort to satisfy the mulitplexes in a geek finds balls to defend his castle thriller.
When the beautiful couple, Amy and David Sumner arrive back in Amy’s hometown in their flash vintage sports car, it not only sends the clear-cut message that Hollywood is that “stuff of dreams” but that it can reach even the tiniest parts of the country. To the locals of Blackwater though, their version of Hollywood is more the Saw franchise and the cop show that Amy was in than the liberal educated suff her husband works on. David, a bespectled screenwriter of a WW2 drama wastes no time in unsettling the natives with his Ivy league credentials and fancy clothes, not to mention the air of metro-sexuality that Director Lurie makes damn sure infuses his early scenes. Increasing the tension is Amy’s former beau, the insanely well proportioned hunk football star Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), who also wastes no time in re-igniting old desires in the presence of the all accommodating geeky David. Not to appear inhospitable himself, David invokes that “when in rome” stance inflamming the locals even further. He decides as well, somewhat fecklessly, to let Charlie and his crew work on their ailing roof to the disregard of Amy.
With one pot on the boil Lurie flames his second plate, James Wood who well suits the town drunk “Coach”, down to his buzz cut and ferocious temper. If ever, the overacting Woods was needed to display his most endearing quality it certainly was in this role as the rabid vigilante redneck father. Leaving that one simmering for a good hour we return to the increasing antagonisms of the macho posturing Charlie and the chess-loving David which at times reaches some farcical proportions. David’s clumsiness on a ladder, in slippers no less, grates and his frustrations at having his writing retreat made into an unworkable soundclash of Lynrd Skynrd and Beethoven seems as infantile as the potraits of Charlie’s crew on the pick-up truck brandishing guns. Even the ogling of Bosworth’s buttocks and her ridiculous striptease, magnify who and what we are appealing to.
Whether or not we buy into any of Lurie re-positionings, he still makes a competent thriller. The editing was notable as a tension builder in the later parts with quick sharp cuts of stampeding footballers, and flashbacks to the rape scene of Amy. His choice of classic Hank Williams and Eddie Miller offered some interesting moments as they helped provide some of the necessary ambiguity in David’s character. Nothing like good music to help bridge divides. His transformation in the third act was made complete when he put the needle to a track that had Charlie acknowledge that he finally has “got some man in him”. From them on all hell can break lose.
First timers will enjoy this as it is a cut above most of the genre pieces, the performances are all competent and the pacing is in third gear for most of the time but for those who who hold onto ‘romantic’ ideals, this clearly is as offensive as David’s laceless shoes.
Straw Dogs is unleashed on cinemas 4th November 2011.
Director: Rod Lurie
Stars:James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård
Runtime: 110 min