VOD Spotlight: “Straw Dogs” offers new take on tension-filled tale

By Stacey Harrison

Some remakes can be judged on their own merit without really taking into account their predecessor. Not too many folks, for instance, spend much time viewing 1956’s The Ten Commandments through the prism of the 1923 version. But with a story like Straw Dogs, the comparisons are necessary.

Director Rod Lurie (The Contender) has updated Sam Peckinpah’s nasty 1971 film — which managed to touch on (or walk all over, rather) issues relating to the Vietnam War, sexual politics and class struggles — while moving the story from the Irish countryside to the Deep South. Dustin Hoffman’s nebbish, draft-dodging math professor has been replaced by James Marsden’s milquetoast screenwriter, David. He accompanies his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth, filling Susan George’s role) back to her provincial Louisiana hometown so he can find some peace and quiet to work on his script about the Battle of Stalingrad.

It’s immediately apparent that David doesn’t fit in, with his high-priced loafers and barely concealed disdain for the rituals of small-town Southern life, which include Friday nights at the football field and Sunday mornings at church. Amy, meanwhile, is the town’s prodigal daughter returned, and her high-school boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) is obviously still smitten with her. This gets complicated when Charlie and his group of stereotypically Southern-fried friends end up doing a roof-repair job where David and Amy are staying. Tensions rise as David tries to fit in, but only ends up being condescending, while Amy grows bored and bitter, resorting to flaunting her sexuality at the lustful lookers-on.

Anyone who has seen the original Straw Dogs knows where this will end up, and while the new version can’t quite break itself free of its source material, there is the joy of watching James Woods in one of the scariest roles of his career (which is saying something). Skarsgard, as well, shines in the role of small-time hero, nimbly walking that tricky balance inherent in a genteel sociopath. The new Straw Dogs also delivers that same cathartic release at the end, as the pent-up frustration of David’s repressed masculinity comes spilling out in murderous glee. You’ll feel relieved, guilty and a little confused by what just happened, and that’s probably the best result the filmmakers could hope for.

“Straw Dogs” is available starting Dec. 20 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.


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