If there was ever a court case accusing Hollywood of having run out of ideas and duping box office patrons with recycled product, Straw Dogs (2011) might be considered exhibit A.
Back in 1971, Sam Peckinpah adapted Gordon Williams’ novel, The Siege of the Trencher’s Father into a screenplay that attached Dustin Hoffman to the controversially violent film titled Straw Dogs. On an estimated budget of just over $3 million, Straw Dogs told the story about an American mathematician named David Summer (Hoffman) who is provoked by a small town’s bullies in Cornwall England. They terrorize the seemingly wimpy David and rape his wife until David decides to fight back in equally violent fashion.
The 1971 film went on to gross over $11 million worldwide, but was hardly considered neither a commercial hit nor was it one of Peckinpah’s best (Hoffman all but disowned the film and would famously admit to only accepting the role for the money).
But here we were some 40 years later and the Hollywood machine was busy churning out 16 remakes and reboots in 2011 – Straw Dogs being one of them.
In the 2011 edition, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth signed on the dotted line to star as David and Amy Summer. Director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle) made some major changes to the screenplay and set the updated version in the deep south of America. David was also changed from a mathematician to a screenwriter. But all other major elements of the story – in particular the evil townsfolk remained the same.
Alexander Skarsgård plays Charlie, a former love interest for Amy that attempts to rekindle the flame when David and Amy return to the family home in an attempt to find some peace and quiet while David writes his book. And James Woods plays a complex old man that has a penchant for drink and the violence that the bottle brings.
The tension between David and Charlie starts as a simple indifference between a city boy and a small town country worker. But it escalates with Charlie’s continued pining for Amy – a desire that will have Charlie break into the home and rape his former girlfriend.
But it is when Amy and David attempt to harbor the town idiot, Jeremy (played by Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell) that things really begin to escalate. Tom Heddon (Woods) believes that Jeremy did wrong towards his young grandchild and he comes with a town posse to the Summer house to violently extract Jeremy at any cost.
Much like the original version, David is able to use his home and its contents as protection from the increasing threat and in expected fashion, a final showdown between David and Charlie will highlight the climax of the film.
Straw Dogs was remade for all the wrong reasons (well, make that no reason that we can think of), and the results provide nothing more than a numb action film with predictable results. The rape and the violence that was so cutting edge back in 1971 (the original film was banned in many countries) seems relatively routine in 2011 and serviceable performances by the film’s leads does little to help elevate the film above mediocrity.
There has been hundreds of films with the protagonist rising to the increased levels of violence to discourage a threat since Straw Dogs in 1971 and Rod Lurie decided that a simple setting change was all that was required to draw in a new audience.
Lurie would have been better served had he pushed the envelope and developed a remake that was more in line with 2010’s I Spit on Your Grave. Instead, the screenplay plays safe and despite a wonderful performance by James Woods (who is always at his best when he is evil), the film offers nothing that will have you recollect its details a few weeks after screening.