Straw Dogs (2011) (Blu-ray)
When I heard that Hollywood had green-lit a remake of STRAW DOGS (1971), a seminal movie in the history of film directed by Sam Peckinpah (THE WILD BUNCH) starring Dustin Hoffman, I was worried. I’ve written before about my hesitance to the recent Hollywood trend of remaking/reimagining movies of the past. The original movie is the story of a young man who is slowly driven to violence by the ongoing bullying of people who are fundamentally different than him – and his break to REACT violently is one of the scariest moments I’ve observed on celluloid. The remake is decidedly less original (surprise!) and finds us waiting to see what will finally drive our protagonist to the same end. Because the shock factor is removed, our remake is declawed a bit and suffers for it, despite decent performances by a great group of young actors.
STRAW DOGS is the story of L.A. Screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden, Cyclops of Brian Singer’s X-MEN franchise and the charming ENCHANTED) and his wife Amy (played by the beautiful and able Kate Bosworth). The Sumners are moving back to Amy’s hometown in the south so that David can focus on writing his newest script about Stalingrad and the Russians who were all but beaten before they rose from the ashes to defeat their Nazi oppressors (foreshadowing much?). Amy hasn’t been home since leaving to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress and from the onset doesn’t appear to have any desire to have returned to her childhood home. Here is the problem – Marsden’s David Sumner is, at times, blissfully unaware of his wife’s issues with returning to her home, despite the fact that it is over-played by Bosworth from the film’s first frame.
Amy’s father has recently passed and the barn is in disrepair. The family received some insurance or disaster relief funds for the barn, which David uses to hire a group of contractors (including Skarsgard of GENERATION KILL and TRUE BLOOD) made up of former friends of Amy. He seems to think this is a good idea, despite the weak protests of Amy, though he quickly realizes that this wasn’t a good idea. Skarsgard plays Charlie, a local hero for his High School football prowess and Amy’s former love. Charlie and his crew quickly make it clear that they don’t like David and believe that Amy should be with Charlie again.
During all of this, David refuses to see the issues despite the ongoing deterioration of Amy’s mental state. I found myself really hating Amy at the beginning of the movie because I felt that she was unfairly wanting him to suddenly be someone different. But if the film sells anything, it is that David really thinks he is doing a good thing for his wife. Amy tries to illicit a response from David several ways, including de-robing in front of a window in full view of the crew, but he barely seems to notice. I don’t know if he really didn’t know what was going on or if this was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers, but it just doesn’t work.
We’re left sitting, waiting for the hammer to fall. This is more than just building the tension toward the climax of the story, it is sloppy filmmaking. Everyone knows (whether you’ve seen the original movie or just the posters and previews for this shoddy remake) that in the end David is going to have to break – he has to defend his own. But the way that this is telegraphed leaves so little to the imagination that we spend the second (and most of the third) act waiting, getting bored, checking our watches, and hoping that something will finally just HAPPEN.
This is the fatal flaw of this remake – it relies on the idea that it is a story that people don’t know while setting up everything from the original story within the first few minutes. This movie was clearly made for Hollywood’s perception of “joe-average filmgoer,” i.e. someone who would walk into this movie simply because it stars Cyclops and Eric from TRUE BLOOD. Despite the fact that the film features what could have been one of the more disturbing takes on sexual violence in the modern film era… instead we’re left cold. Skip this remake and watch the original instead.
Video: (1080p, 2.40:1 Widescreen) The video is clear and crisp, conveying some incredible and terrible moments and putting you right in the middle of them.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The sound is well done, especially in the action moments helping to build the tension.
Commentary with Writer/Director Rod Lurie (01:49:43) Lurie talks about making the movie, working with the actors, and spends quite a while talking about the reasons behind choosing to make this movie. Additionally he spends time talking about his choices. Love or hate this movie, this is a great, great commentary track with some deep insights into the work of making films.
Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic (07:41) Interviews with the cast and crew and behind the scenes footage focus on why Lurie sought to remake this movie for the modern era. It is sad when you hear all of these things that make sense but don’t result in a movie that’s worth the time.
The Dynamics of Power: The Ensemble (06:20) The cast spends time talking about their rehearsal and shooting process, especially the group of Straw Dogs central to the film, led by Skarsgard.
Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown (07:29) The final scenes of the film are the siege of the home. This is one of the best parts of the movie which gets its due on this special feature – I wish it hadn’t taken so long to get here. This feature goes in depth with the final moments.
Creating the Sumner House: The Production Design (04:09) This featurette focuses on the design of the home and creating the backdrop of summer, backwoods” Mississippi. I didn’t realize that the entire house was actually completely built for the movie. Very neat behind the scenes feature.
The Blu-ray also comes with access to BD-Live and previews for additional films recently to Blu-ray.