In 1971, Straw Dogs starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George and directed by Sam Peckinpah was released to much attention. Over 40 years, it has become a classic that stands as one of the finest achievements of the director and actors.
Now it’s reduced to a torture porn cash-in by Rod Lurie, the idiot who decided that it needed to be remade.
It pains me how disgraceful this movie is. It had such a solid basis to follow, but it betrays that foundation in the most critical of ways.
David (James Marsden) and Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) head to her home in the rural town she grew up in so he can concentrate on his work. They soon hire a construction crew to work on the roof of the barn on the property. This crew is led by Charlie Venner (Alexander Skarsgard), Amy’s former boyfriend. Soon tensions rise, lust builds, and violence explodes.
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah this is all in line, what’s the issue?” Well that’s pretty much all it gets right. Other than that it is a complete miss that shows no understanding of why major elements of the original were so vital. It reminds me of The Last House on the Left in 2009 — another terrible remake where the mororns behind it proved that they entirely missed the point of Wes Craven’s film and the Ingmar Bergman original, The Virgin Spring.
The first, and perhaps most crucial, mistake made is the change of setting. The original was set in the English countryside. This was extremely effective because when people think of places that seem dangerous, that one would be at the bottom of the list. So the point of the original is that evil exists everywhere, even where you assume it would never be.
And what does Lurie do? He sets it in the American Deep South. Rejoin me when you’re done facepalming.
You can’t set something in movieland’s most dangerous place and then expect the audience to be shocked when bad stuff happens. We’ve seen Deliverance, Southern Comfort, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its dozens of sequels, remakes, and rip-offs. The way Hollywood tells it, Middle Eastern warzones are safer. And the characters are so stereotypical that it’s ridiculous. A character says “we know our guns” in a conversation that isn’t at all about guns and the preacher asks his congregation in earnest to pray that the high school football team wins. I shit you not.
The next problematic change is altering the profession of the main characters.
Whereas the original David was a mathematician, this one is a screenwriter. Again the whole idea of it went over Lurie’s brainless head. The point wasn’t that his job wasn’t all that labor-intensive; it was that it signaled a high degree of intelligence and made him unrelatable to any of the other characters.
Here though, the locals all love movies and TV shows, especially since this new Amy is now an actress. This is another huge problem, as it makes her and David have more in common. The original one was no rocket scientist, and at times one would wonder what she saw in him.
Big problem #3 (or, what number am I on now?): the casting. Hoffman and George were not only great actors, but they were perfectly mismatched. A 13-year age gap already existed between them, and Hoffman looked older still. Plus George, as we might say today, was out of his league. Again, this made the audience wonder just what these two are doing together, and how this disparity will affect her interaction with Charlie.
Marsden and Bosworth however are perfectly matched. Even though they are actually 10 years apart, it doesn’t show at all. They are exactly in each other’s league. In fact, they played a couple a few years ago in Superman Returns. This reunion aspect really cheapens the movie, too. We don’t see David and Amy; we see Lois Lane and her boyfriend.
Their performances aren’t much good either. Hoffman is certainly a tough act to follow, but Marsden falls far short. Bosworth doesn’t even speak with a southern accent (and there’s a really pathetic excuse why). And no, she does NOT do the nudity, which in the original was not gratuitous but visually essential for the scenes to have such a powerful effect. Bosworth dresses slutty practically the whole movie (something George did not do; she was alluring even in a sweater, jeans, and sneakers) but doesn’t do nudity. Go figure.
For extras, the DVD and Blu Ray have a commentary from Lurie, four 4-7 minute featurettes, and trailers for other movies.
This movie was a huge flop when it was released in theaters. Thank God for that. Everyone involved with this mockery of a cinematic landmark should be ashamed of themselves. Their travesty is a gigantic insult to the original, to viewers, and to the medium of film.