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"Straw Dogs" x 2

Rod Lurie's remake presents an opportunity to revisit the controversy kicked up by Peckinpah's original.

"Like the children poking at scorpions in the opening shots of The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah knew how to stir things up," wrote Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times at the top of the month. "In 1971, two years after that exhilarating and phenomenally bloody western made him one of the most famous — or infamous — directors in America, Peckinpah took a crew to the Cornish countryside and came back with a movie called Straw Dogs, which upset audiences in a new, and perhaps more intimate, way."

At MSN Movies, Glenn Kenny reminds us that Pauline Kael once called Straw Dogs "the first American film that is a fascist piece of art." Glenn: "I don't consider the Peckinpah film fascist, but I don't consider it coherent to begin with. The Straw Dogs that starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George and was set in a particularly unpleasant patch of British countryside registers to me as a cinematic howl of anguish and rage and ultimate despair, a film that confronts the messed-up state of both its characters and its director only a little more than it indulges that state. It's a movie that leers at the breasts of its female lead one minute and adopts her pained point of view the next, and asks the viewer to ultimately identify with a male protagonist who's never been less than a snotty, petulant jerk throughout the picture's running time."

In his capsule for the Chicago Reader, written some time back, Dave Kehr noted that Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange also appeared in 1971: "But the difference between Kubrick and Peckinpah is the difference between impersonal sadism and an individual morality strongly expressed; though doubtlessly reactionary, Straw Dogs has the heat of personal commitment and the authority of deep (if bitter) contemplation. It is also moviemaking of a very high order."

"Cynical to the bone," writes Chris Cabin, reviewing Fox's newish re-release on DVD and Blu-ray for Slant, "the film reconfigures the home-invasion plot of the source material (Gordon Williams's The Siege of Trencher's Farm) as less a paean to old-fashioned, hard-bitten justice than a study of masculinity and man's most basic instincts toward crude violence. Indeed, the film's title derives from a line in the Tao Te Ching, wherein man's indifference to the killing of his fellow man is related to God's indifference to the life and death of man. Behind all of this, however, is Peckinpah's masterful direction, and as much as there is an argument to be made that Straw Dogs ostensibly works as a resituated western, there's no denying that the film offered him new challenges that he faced head-on."

So before we begin sampling from reviews of Rod Lurie's remake, you should take a look at this: Lurie discussing the original for two minutes at Trailers From Hell.

On to Nick Schager in Box Office: "With only minor narrative changes from its predecessor, Lurie's tale concerns a Hollywood screenwriter (James Marsden) and his tart wife (Kate Bosworth) who relocate to her backwoods Mississippi hometown for a summer of solitary work and relaxation, only to find that the locals — and, in particular, her burly ex-boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård) and his redneck pals — have unsavory designs for both her and her milquetoast new hubby. As before, what follows is a caustic examination of masculinity, but despite Lurie's well-composed and taut direction, his alterations sap the material of its provocative power-though such differences are far less likely to damage its box-office potential than is its graphic and off-putting abuse-and-revenge storyline."

"The red state/blue state divide is carved out with a ham fist," notes Alison Willmore in Movieline. Also: "Other than a moment in which she strips down for the workers by an open window out of revenge after a tiff with David, Amy's absolved of much of the retrograde behavior in this take on Straw Dogs. She isn't trying to provoke the townies — she begs to leave, and the rape scene, when it arrives, is far less muddied. This centering of Amy seems a way around the accusations of misogyny that were aimed at Peckinpah's version, but it also puts her in the more typical position of a female character being the voice of reason, the sane one, while everyone else around her gets to be a luxuriant asshole."

"To watch both films is to see a deeply repulsive view of the world as an unfailingly savage place expressed earnestly and executed chillingly, then to see the same recycled as a rote revenge thriller attempting to shoulder more philosophical weight than it can bear." Keith Phipps at the AV Club: "The most striking moments in Lurie’s Straw Dogs stay faithful to Peckinpah’s original. Put another way, the most striking moments lift whole shots and editing strategies from Peckinpah’s original…. The original was repulsive but impossible to shake. This remake is pure applause bait, which makes it barbaric in ways Peckinpah would never have dreamed."

More from Jaime N Christley (Slant, 1.5/4), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), Peter Martin (Twitch), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 0.5/4), Ray Pride (Newcity Film) and AO Scott (NYT). Jen Yamato interviews Lurie for Movieline and Jessica Pressler profiles Alexander Skarsgård for New York.

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When shall Peckinpah crawl from his grave and seek bloody revenge against those who try to molest his work?

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