Dave White
Straw Dogs Review

Dave's Rating:


Turning something into nothing.

How to remake a classic film and strip it of all meaning:

Step 1: Instead of letting your characters' actions speak for them, explain everything in the dialogue. Make sure people are yelling.

In 1971's classic, influential Straw Dogs, the story of a sophisticated man and his wife battling violent people in a rural setting, Dustin Hoffman's pacifist mathematician conveys his weakness with facial expressions, physical timidity, annoyance over his combative wife's (Susan George) horniness, and inability to handle a hunting rifle. In this brain-dead update, all James Woods (as the local, aging, alcoholic football coach) has to do is sit at a bar, spit out the word "Hollywood" and call James Marsden (now a rich screenwriter instead of a mathy academic) a "creampuff." Later, wife Kate Bosworth announces that her husband doesn't need any lessons in how to be a man, and Marsden miraculously takes out a big buck with one perfect shot, just so you don't think he might stand a chance of losing against the mean people in the end.

Step 2: Shift your point of view whenever it's most convenient, regardless of how confusing that is to the audience.

The original film set itself in the middle of a metaphoric war zone that mirrored America's involvement in Vietman. There are battles between Hoffman and Susan George, George and the rural locals--one of whom is her ex-boyfriend that she might still want sex from, depending on how you read specific moments in the movie--and Hoffman and his own sense of self. This Hollywood liberal guilt-tripping remix sides, at first, with the God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth "Real Americans"; that is, until they prove that they're horrible and murderous just like the ads for the film promise. You are to root for whomever provides the biggest sensation at any given moment.

Step 3: Sand down all ambiguity until all that's left is some I Spit On Your Grave-style revenge.

In 1971 it was possible to look at Sam Peckinpah's version as a critique of the growing Women's Movement, of do-nothing pacifism in a time of war, and of civilization cutting men off from their impulses to confront violence with equal and/or more powerful violence. It shocked audiences with its brutality but it was equally provocative because of its conflicted ideas about that brutality. It was the movie that spawned a lot of other revenge movies that came afterward, less complicated films that eventually inspired the making of Michael Haneke's scolding, violently anti-violent Funny Games. You could call the 2011 Straw Dogs an example of why Michael Haneke recently remade Funny Games in English.

Step 4: Grosser killings, please.

On principle, [here comes a spoiler--stop reading if you're not down for that] I'm not opposed to watching explicit examples of human cruelty, rougher scenarios than were usually on the movie menu of 1971. It's a different era. We like it bigger and bloodier now. That's fine. So sure, show me a guy getting his head caught in a bear trap. But if that's all you can think is necessary to retell a story for a new generation, if making the action beats more booming and more blunt is all you have in mind for capturing and amplifying the substance of the original product, then maybe you already got your head caught in a different kind of trap.


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