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DVD review: A tale of two 'Straw Dogs'

Gene Triplett Modified: May 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm •  Published: January 27, 2012

Many a Sam Peckinpah fan and especially admirers of the wild and woolly director’s 1971 version of “Straw Dogs” rolled their eyes at the news that film critic-turned-filmmaker Rod

Lurie (“The Contender”) had had the audacity to attempt a remake of this controversial story of savage survival instinct awakened in the soul of a pacifist.

The original, co-written by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman from a novel by Gordon Williams, centered on peace-loving American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his restless British wife, Amy (Susan George), who move to her hometown and face increasingly vicious harassment from working-class locals, led by one of her ex-boyfriends.

Critics and moviegoers alike were polarized by the film’s excessive and graphic violence, and detractors labeled Peckinpah a “merciless misogynist” for making the Amy character a submissive, teasing, immature young woman who becomes aroused in the midst of being raped. In writer-director Lurie’s update, Oklahoma City-born actor James Marsden’s David is a nonviolent screenwriter and Kate Bosworth’s Amy is a strong, assertive film actress. Her small hometown is Blackwater, Miss., and the couple travel there to prepare her rural family home for sale after her father’s death.

Once there, conflicts emerge with local rednecks, including Amy’s old ex-high school football hero boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard) and his sadistic ex-coach turned town troublemaker and drunk (a well-cast James Woods), and tensions slowly build to an eruption of  wanton and life-threatening mayhem, eventually forcing both David and Amy to turn as brutal and deadly as their tormentors. 

While Peckinpah’s classic study in blood lust and what really constitutes rape brought accusations raining down upon him of galloping misogyny and shameless pandering to his audience’s baser instincts (as lamost all of his films did), Lurie’s new slant attempts to pose thoughtful questions about the moral price paid for loosing the killer inside.

Like the original, Lurie’s is a corker of a thriller. It just doesn’t bring the visceral gusto of  “Bloody” Sam’s double-barreled slamdance, which offers the rare opportunity of watching Dustin Hoffman turn bad-ass. 

DVD extras: “Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic,” “The Dynamics of Power: The Ensemble,” “Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown,” “Commentary with Writer/Director Rod Lurie.”

— Gene Triplett


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