David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), a Hollywood screenwriter and his actress wife, return to her small hometown in the deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her father’s death. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, including Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), leading to a violent confrontation.
The original “Straw Dogs” (made in 1971, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman), is a brilliant and highly controversial work. It’s ostensibly a rape/revenge movie (with a huge side helping of Western). Typically in that sub-genre the female character is the one who gets revenge on her attackers, but in “Straw Dogs” it’s Dustin Hoffman’s character, David Sumner, who avenges the sexual assault of his wife and the invasion of their home in England. The movie is a brutal, violent meditation on what will happen when a man is pushed beyond his limits and reaches a more primal state. David is an emasculated character from the first frame of the film, and it takes a violation of his wife and his home to get him to find his “man” again. Building from that idea, you could also look at the film with the idea that Hoffman’s character had a more purposeful role in the violent events, that he wanted them to happen and even engineered them somewhat so he could regain his masculinity. It’s a theory that’s been tossed around for a while (it’s discussed in the commentary on the Criterion version I believe), and when I watched it with that in mind, I thought it added depth and was pretty on the mark.
The ’71 film stirred up wild controversy in its day because of the portrayal of the sexual assault. The film implies that although she is assaulted, Amy Sumner (Susan George) invites the sexual attention of her ex-boyfriend and his friends and doesn’t turn them away, even when they’re raping her. It’s not exactly “she’s asking for it”, that would be too simplistic an explanation. There’s no clear answer and that’s one of the reasons this film is so memorable and so hard to take. It lives in many sections of the gray area.
From the trailer, it looks like Bosworth’s character is much more proactive in this version, committing violence with her husband (Marsden) against the men assaulting their house. James Marsden certainly looks the part, and I hope he turns out to have the acting chops to pull off such a layered role.
If you’re going to see this film, I would suggest seeing the original first, because it’s truly a work of art (“facist art”, according to Pauline Kael). But brace yourself. ~StayFrosty