Straw Dogs
dir-scr Rod Lurie
prd Marc Frydman, Rod Lurie
with James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Rhys Coiro, Drew Powell, Billy Lush, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins, Anson Mount
release US 16.Sep.11, UK 4.Nov.11
11/US Screen Gems 1h50
Straw Dogs
Home invasion: Marsden and Bosworth

skarsgard wood purcell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Straw Dogs This remake of Sam Peckinpah's 1971 British thriller is deeply unpleasant but very well-made. It's also bravely packed with all kinds of mixed messages that force us to think about some extremely difficult themes.

Hollywood screenwriter David (Marsden) moves to the backwater Mississippi home of his actress wife Amy (Bosworth), who is immediately sucked back into local life. This includes her former flame Charlie (Skarsgard), who is now a contractor working on David and Amy's barn with his chucklehead hunting buddies (Coiro, Powell and Lush). But soon, the tension between Charlie and Amy erupts into sexual violence, as David is taunted about his manhood. And a simple-minded guy (Purcell) turns out to be the catalyst for an eruption of violence.

Writer-director Lurie gives the film a jolt of intelligence that transcends its rather cliched setting. These aren't ordinary rednecks: they're straw dogs, young men whose lives suddenly became meaningless after they stopped being local heroes on the high school football team. So life is about bravado, bar brawls and staying at the top of the pecking order. While Coiro, Powell and Lush are extremely believable in these roles, Skarsgard is far too beautiful and charismatic to be such a dolt. Which actually makes his character darkly intriguing, especially since the performance is so perfectly gauged.

Meanwhile, Marsden and Bosworth are terrific as the happy couple whose life is first shaken and then threatened with total oblivion. Their animalistic reaction is the central theme of the story, and also the most distasteful element in a film that's packed with cruelty, bigotry, murder and rape. That David isn't actually a man until he has killed everyone trying to attack his family is an extremely vile concept.

But then, this is a film about the worst side of humanity, including this cultural definition of masculinity. Scenes are packed with big issues - class and privilege, honesty and politeness, hunting and being hunted, law-abiding and rule-bending - as Lurie digs into the fragile balance of life in small-town America. It's not a pretty picture. And the film is increasingly hard to watch as events turn so violent that thinking of this as exaggerated fiction is the only way to cope with it.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence 3.Oct.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall