DVD Review: Straw Dogs (2011)

Straw Dogs DVDSTUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Rod Lurie | CAST: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, James Woods, Dominic Purcell,  Alexander Skarsgard
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 12/20/2011 | PRICE: DVD $30.99, Blu-ray $35.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes
SPECS: R | 110 min. | Thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Writer/director Rod Lurie’s (The Contender) 2011 remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 thriller Straw Dogs packs the same kind of disturbing punch as its predecessor, though that’s due more to its story than to any particular kind of the filmmaking. Not that the Lurie’s Straw Dogs is weak — it’s actually a well-crafted, solidly acted film — but it’s the story that one walks away remembering.

Straw Dogs

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth play house in Straw Dogs.

The new Straw Dogs follows a young couple, David, a quiet screenwriter of historical movies (James Marsden, Enchanted), and his TV actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth, The Warrior’s Way). They relocate from Los Angeles to her hometown in the Deep South.

Immediately upon arriving, the couple encounters a bunch of locals who’ve known Amy for years, including her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood). Under the sizzling Mississippi sun, Charlie and his crew work on a construction renovation at David and Amy’s isolated home. Tensions begin to grow between the boys and the bespectacled David, who finds his manhood being called into question. Before too long, even Amy begins to confront her husband on why he isn’t dealing with the bullying locals, which leads to a nasty confrontation and a siege on the couple’s home.

There are three substantial story differences between Lurie’s film and Peckinpah’s version: the original was set in rural England, David was a mathematician and Amy was far more, oh, disreputable, to the point of even being “agreeable” to a sexual assault by her ex-beau (which remains the original film’s most controversial scene). The first two alterations come off as relatively cosmetic differences in the new film, but not so for Amy and the rape sequence. Amy is quite plainly opposed to the assault in the new movie, struggling against it as well as she can. Actually, Bosworth’s character in Lurie’s version marks the biggest departure from the original, as her Amy is in love with her husband and her actions are a notable and positive step away from Peckinpah’s mean-spirited and arguably misogynistic depiction of the character in his version.

Lurie, who isn’t seen or heard from that much in the DVD’s relatively standard making-of featurettes, is quite enthusiastic in his informative director’s commentary. He references Peckinpah extensively on the track, with both praise and wariness. It’s obvious he’s a Peckinpah fan, referring to him as a “genius” more than once.

Lurie was obviously ready to rock when he sat down for the commentary (which was recorded two months prior to the film’s theatrical release). Just as Todd Haynes did for his recent Velvet Goldmine Blu-ray commentary, Lurie came prepared with researched material and notes about both his film and the original. At one point, he even reads an archival letter from Harold Pinter to Peckinpah regarding an advanced copy of the Straw Dogs screenplay, wherein the legendary playwright announces, “I detest it with unqualified detestation.”

Whew. Pinter wasn’t such a nice guy himself when it came to relations between men and women. I wonder what he thought of the finished film?


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.