Straw Dogs (2011) review

On the leash or back with bite?

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Granted an X certificate on its 1971 cinema release and banned on video between 1988 and 2002, Sam Peckinpah’s tale of civilised man finding his inner monster to survive an assault of irrational violence featured strong rape, frequent emasculation and graphic revenge.

Part reimagined western for the Vietnam era, part precursor to such queasy horrors as The Last House On The Left , I Spit On Your Grave and Ms.45 , Straw Dogs ignited debates on screen violence that would be fanned by the arrival of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange just two months later.

Rod Lurie’s remake transposes the action from cloudy Cornwall to sticky Mississippi but keeps the meat of the story intact, along with the violence.

If it doesn’t spark anything like the furore of Peckinpah’s original that’s because Lurie’s liberal sensibilities have him shave off a few of the rough, ambiguous edges; but mainly it’s because extreme violence is now part and parcel of modern mainstream cinema.

Faithful down to a couple of dramatically convenient sub-plots and some nasty business with the family kitty, Dogs ’11 sees screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden, stepping into the soft-soled shoes of Dustin Hoffman’s mathematician) and TV-actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth, replacing Susan George) return to Amy’s rural childhood idyll.

No sooner have they mounted a bear trap on the wall than they’re being threatened by a posse of hick locals led by Amy’s manly ex, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård, all faux-politeness and fabulous pecs).

Maintaining the slow-burn build-up, city vs country suspicion and blood-drenched final act, Lurie’s remake has much to commend it, not least Bosworth’s steel-jawed take on Amy (Marsden is also fine, though he’s too buff to wring any kind of revelation from his climactic manning up).

Where it falls down is in its determination to clarify: the cryptic meaning of the title is clunkily explained; Amy’s ‘complicitous’ flirting curtailed; and the nature vs nurture debate of man’s propensity for violence answered by some jarring crosscuts between Amy being raped and David killing a stag as he signs up for that American rite-of-passage, the deer hunt.

Even so, this is one of the better remakes of a ’70s heritage title, made with care and consideration. Perhaps a little too much…

Rod Lurie brings key aspects to heel but his Straw Dogs is worth a walk around the block. It certainly deserved more than $10m at the US box office.

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Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.