SYNOPSIS: A young couple (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth) moves to a quaint southern town. Soon their perfect getaway turns out to become a living hell when dark secrets and lethal passions spiral out of control. Trapped by a pack of depraved locals led by a ruthless predator (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood), they face a night of agonizing suffering and endless bloodshed. Now their only hope for survival is to become more savage than their merciless torturers.
The 1971 Sam Peckinpah ‘Straw Dogs’- which we must admit we have not seen- was supposed to be a symbol of Hollywood’s obsession with brutal realistic violence that sparked controversy when it was first released. It’s unlikely however that this remake from writer/director Rod Lurie (of little-seen gems ‘Resurrecting the Champ’ and ‘Nothing but the Truth’) will ignite a similar reaction- after all, films like ‘The Strangers’ and ‘Funny Games’) have desensitised modern-day audiences to the home invasion flick within the torture porn genre.
Lurie relocates the drama from rural England to the deep South, where Hollywood screenwriter David (James Marsden) moves to with his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) while penning his next script about the siege of Stalingrad. The town called Blackwater is also Amy’s hometown, and the former cheerleader is often hailed as the successful local town girl who’s made it big. Nonetheless, her former boyfriend and ex-star football player Charlie (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard) still has the hots for her, and Charlie’s lingering attraction for Amy becomes one of the flashpoints for the gory showdown between David and Charlie.
Things only get more complicated when Charlie and his boys start fixing the roof of David’s barn- besides insisting on working only in the mornings and taking the afternoons for hunting, they also make themselves a little too comfortable in the main house. There is a class distinction at play here, which isn’t just Charlie’s fault but Amy’s as well- and Charlie, the smartest one of the town yahoos, is quick to point that out right in their faces. Lurie sets up their conflict as one between red-state and blue-state America, taking a measured approach before unleashing the much-awaited violence.
Where less patient and lesser screenwriters would have simply gone for the jugular right from the start, Lurie is a much smarter filmmaker at that, building things up to a suitable boil and giving reason to the aggression that follows. This isn’t senseless violence and gore, but one premised on self-perseveration, with Lurie savvy enough to let his audience empathise with his characters before the nail-biting last half-hour. There is a distinct sense of cause-and-effect with no easy heroes or villains- indeed, Amy herself might be blamed for titillating Charlie and his friends by jogging braless and flashing her tits at them in the first place.
Much of the film’s tension hinges on the brilliant interplay between Marsden and Skarsgard, both male actors- one carved from brawn and the other from brain- a tense gripping watch when the former is made to play on the latter’s level. Unfortunately, Bosworth is nothing better than a bimbo in the movie, her acting shallow and annoying. Faring much better are limited but solid supporting perfs from James Woods as the local redneck soccer coach Tom and Dominic Purcell as the town’s village idiot with a crush on Tom’s daughter.
Before you dismiss it as yet another bloody revenge flick, know that ‘Straw Dogs’ is much more than that. It doesn’t come close to the ultimate vengeance tale of ‘I Saw The Devil’, but amongst the recent deluge of genre pictures from Hollywood, this remake- like its original- deserves to be remembered among the best with solid scripting and gripping atmosphere.
The highlight on this disc is the Audio Commentary with writer/director Rod Lurie. A former critic, Lurie knows his movies well and his knowledge shines through when he compares his movie intelligently with that of Sam Peckinpah’s original. Lurie also talks about his characters and interesting nuggets of on-set stories.
Four other featurettes round out this disc. ‘Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic’ has producer Marc Frydman and executive producer Beau Marks about their decision to take on the remake of such an iconic classic, as well as brief description of how two difficult scenes in the film were shot. ‘The Dynamics of Power: Cast’ features interviews with the cast and B-roll footage of the production. ‘Inside The Siege: Stunts’ focuses specifically on the siege of the Summer house, and the rehearsals and preparation work that went into choreographing the tense finish. Finally, the featurette ‘Creating The Summer House: Production Design’ discusses the cottage design by Tony Fanning for the movie..
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is a robust audio track, making use of the back speakers to build atmosphere and tension. Visuals are clear and sharp, with great balance between the dark and light tones of the movie.
DVD RATING :
Review by Gabriel Chong