Straw Dogs is scenic, tense and illogical

Straw Dogs – 2011

Written and Directed by Rod Lurie based on the film by Sam Peckinpah
Starring James Mardsen, Kate Bosworth,  Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins, Rhys Coiro

She was askin’ for it,” one of the most controversial statements in Western Civilization, seems the rallying cry for the South in Straw Dogs.  When is being vengeful to your husband’s perceived weakness an outright demand to be violated?  For my wife it was the moment that Bosworth’s Amy decided to open the windows, stare at a barn roof filled with rednecks, and begin to undress.

It was not long after, around the time of the first rape, my wife grew tired of the stupidity and left the room.  She is not the only woman I know who reacted that way to Straw Dogs.  This is nothing compared to the reactions the original, starring Dustin Hoffman, received in 1971.  Rape is not an easy thing to cover as a form of “entertainment.”  The Accused with Kelly McGillis and Jodie Foster came about as close as you can to covering it with the solemnity it deserves, but then, my perspective as a man isn’t worth much.  This film gives an attempt to skirt the line of “askin’ for it” when Amy lets her old boyfriend in the door.  Why is this done?

Logically, to say it’s the kind of town that no one locks their doors, is idiotic.  Most women would keep it locked and look through a peek hole.  Artistically, whatever part of her that could “never go home again,” definitely camped out for a while, and forgot to put the fire out.  So she got burned.

So why does her husband (Mardsen) do half of the things he does in this film?  The chemistry between them seems the act of showing a decided lack of chemistry.  It brings to mind of a less realistic version of McMurtry and Mellencamp’s sad but excellent Falling From Grace, with the roles reversed.  The movie forces the viewer to acknowledge, “I would never do this,” and, less often, “I could see myself doing that.”

The film seems divided, between a sense of realism and one of terrible cliché.  This excels as a study of  men questioning their own sense of worthiness in a strange environment.  It comes closer to ludicrous in the “You ain’t from around here,” routine, which seems a little out dated at this point.

Among the films strengths is a simmering performance by Skarsgård.  He oozes testosterone, and his eyes feel like that of a big cat, waiting to pounce.  His ability masks his Swedish heritage completely.  He has the potential to become as good an actor as his father, Stellan, with a broader appeal.

Bosworth gives a tricky performance.  Her character is asked to do things I just cannot imagine any sensible woman doing.  That she survives those with a modicum of believability is a testament to her skills as an actress.  Similarly, the change in her personality in the second half of the film rings true, considering the trauma she has endured.

James Woods plays crazy very well.  His performance as the retired “Coach” seems ridiculous and brilliant simultaneously.  The way he stirs the pot inadvertently with the subplot, right from Of Mice and Men, is serviceable to escalate the events to their violent end.

For Mardsen, the movie was a decent test to his ability.  Of this, I can safely say that he is not Dustin Hoffman.  He is not bad, though.  I am not sure I buy him as a writer, but I can see how he might have problems fitting in with the locals…anywhere.  His struggle to find a way, as well a reason, to fit in is riddled with inconsistency.  Just like it might be in life.  His turn towards the end kind of stretches credibility, especially when he plays the record.  I never have seen a more effective use of a bear trap, though.

(*** out of *****)


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