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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Straw Dogs | James Woods, Alexander Skarsgard and Dominic Purcell | Review

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  2_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Straw Dogs

The title was perplexing back then (1971) when Sam Peckinpah directed Dustin Hoffman and Susan George in a film that garnered the first X rating for violence.  Meaning essentially “forms without substance” straw dogs were constructed by the Chinese for ceremonial purposes; they were destroyed when they were no longer useful.

Director Rod Lurie captures the misogyny of the first film but not the skill.  He adds a foot fetish as well.  The script fashions its straw dog characters as if indeed they were made of straw.  Every single one of them operates without a brain, even the alleged protagonists, a Hollywood couple visiting the Deep South that is Blackwater, Mississippi.

David (James Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) are the Sumners, a screenwriter and an actress respectively, returning to her hometown after her father’s death.  James is working on his latest screenplay about Stalingrad during WWII.  Amy is visiting her childhood home in preparation for its sale, and returning as a celebrity to the small town that’s still pretty much intact with the same simple folk that populated it when she was a girl.  Turns out, that’s not such a good thing.

One of those simple folk is her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) and his gang of good ol’ boys (read: redneck goons) who comprise a construction crew that the Sumners hire for some repair work on the property.

Charlie and the crew toy with Amy and David releasing an almost palpable vibe of menace that the two visiting dimwits don’t seem to detect.  This leads to a host of idiotic decisions on the couple’s part that is almost too much for a person of normal intelligence to bear.  The viewer is so much smarter than the characters here that it gets tedious waiting for them to catch up.

There are so many examples that clearly scream out what should be done as opposed to what is done.  A mock striptease scene by Amy is absolutely incomprehensible, as is a hunting trip by David with his armed aggressors.  If Amy grew up here shouldn’t she know better?  Wouldn’t David be more of a savvy, wary fish out of water?  Is it ever wise to hire someone’s ex to hang around in any capacity?

Everyone pays for their tactical errors; it’s just hard to care about them, even when rape and its repercussions are involved,

A subplot involves the town’s ex-coach and violent drunk Tom (James Woods) who harasses a mentally challenged man Jeremy (Dominic Purcell) whom he fears will molest his daughter Janice (Willa Holland) even though she is the tease that lures him to her.


Of course tensions build and circumstances demand a showdown at Amy’s house.  Guns, nails, fire, explosions, boiling water and a bear trap come into play.  The violence almost matches the stupidity.

It is ironic that no character seems capable of making a good decision except for Dominic, who is mentally challenged, and a black sheriff (Laz Alonso) who tries to inject some reasoning into the lunacy.  Even an unfortunate cat makes the mistake of latching onto the wrong owners and pays the ultimate price.  You’d be hard pressed to summon up even a bit of sympathy for anyone else in the cast.

With so much frustration building up, you’d think the action-packed ending would offer a release - and it does – from your theatre seat and the cinematic cretins that are finally off of the screen.

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth drive characters that are clueless and unsympathetic.  James Woods show a mean, menacing side that is at least somewhat effective, but one-note nonetheless.  Alexander Skarsgard is capable of both subtlety and intensity and will perhaps fare better in his next role.

Producer/director/writer Rod Lurie (The Contender) thankfully does not go for Peckinpah’s trademark slow motion shots, but brings a vulgar mentality to the remake just because he can.  Both films are based on the Gordon Williams’ book, “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” so the misogyny starts there and escalates almost gleefully in Lurie’s hands.  You might argue about Peckinpah’s collusion as well, although I don’t remember his version as being so very brain-dead.

If there’s anything to be learned from this Straw Dogs it’s that bad decisions can cost you and unfortunately, for the audience, it’s the price of admission.


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