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Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

STRAW DOGS (2011)

With his production of STRAW DOGS (2011) director and writer Rod Lurie takes the Sam Peckinpah original out of its English setting and drops it into the middle of the Mississippi marsh lands. The message of the Peckinpah version was that violence exists everywhere, even in the most bucolic settings, while Lurie seems at times to be saying nothing more than the old stereotypical canard “rednecks are crazy.” The isolated Cornish village that was supposed to be mathematician David Sumner’s refuge from the violence of America, becomes “Blackwater Mississippi”, a rural Southern town where Hollywood writer David Sumner (James Marsden) can get away to work on his new screenplay. The opportunity arises for Sumner and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) when she inherits her recently deceased Father’s run down farm-house. The fact that he is writing about the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the most violent confrontations of World War II, proves portentous in the extreme, as you will soon discover… Upon returning to the town she dismisses as “Backwater”, Amy is interrupted by old boyfriend Charlie (A very sinister Alexander Skarsgard) as she and David have lunch at “Blacky’s” diner. He runs a construction company facilitating David’s decision to hire him and his crew to renovate the home. If not for mistakes like this, we would be without many of the classic dramas and thrillers we have been so fond of over the years. Not that this new version is a classic by any means, but its scenes of animal killing, rape and an especially graphic climactic blood-letting have the power necessary to keep audiences interested and, dare I say, delighted. Also fascinating is the development of several themes which take the heat off of our Southern brethren, whose culture comes in for an otherwise furious shellacking by Lurie. One of these themes is the animalistic nature of all mankind, the ultimate proof of which is found in the fact that audiences enjoy violence such as the above. Of course, most of these themes were developed in the first film, and Lurie, at best, can be credited with adding a few different twists.

One of the first images of the film is of Charlie and his crew/hunting party reflected in the dying eye of a deer as the kill shot is administered. later, when Charlie is reflected in David’s sunglasses, we realize the timid screenwriter will eventually be the hunted – and the hunter – like the animal in all of us. Both men proudly display their trophies. A shot of the aforementioned deer’s antlers decorating the front of Charlie’s truck is followed by a close-up of a jaguar hood ornament on David’s fancy sports car. The arrogance of the two men will lead to a head on collision…Soon there are shots from Amy’s point of view of a church as the car speeds along, followed by shots of high school football players marching along the side of the road. Hunting, football and religion are seen as the pillars of southern American life and they are the motivation behind much of what follows in STRAW DOGS.

The people of Blackwater clearly resent the pampered Hollywood hot-shot. When David attempts to pay a waitress with a credit card she balks, explaining, “We only take cash. You know, stuff poor people use for money.” It is at this same bar and grill that the couple first encounter “Coach” Tom Heddon (James Woods), a drunken mess of a man and the ex coach of the local high school football team. He is insanely possessive of his teen-aged daughter Janice (Willa Holland). Above all, he is filled with blind hatred – especially for Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell) – a mentally challenged man he obsessively believes to be a threat to Janice. In a fight with the bartender “Coach” shatters a glass of beer – cutting himself. He literally has blood on his hands, a hint of what is to come. Also a foreshadowing are the guns, animal trophies and bear traps that decorate Amy’s childhood home – the home she now shares with her husband. David is truly the odd man out, even listening to classical music while everyone else is obsessed with southern blues and country songs. One of Charlie’s crew is even heard asking another worker “Who would you rather have sex with, Hank Williams or Johnny Cash?” While working on the house, Charlie cranks up the country songs to drown out the sound of David’s classical record. Charlie is dominant. He will take David’s woman. And David, who is teaching Amy the fundamentals of chess, attempts to seduce her by rubbing chess pieces over her body. He is no match for the alpha animal Charlie – not yet. The crew of “rednecks” go hunting every chance they get – and David? He prefers a more genteel pursuit: He skips rope. All the men wear hunting boots except David who sports effeminate brown and white saddle shoes. Perhaps most damning of all is David’s disdain for organized religion. Invited to a “preach and play” – a church service before the big game – David grows disgusted with the fire and brimstone theology of the Pastor (Richard Folmer). He walks out in the middle of the sermon angering Charlie. Did it get him angry enough to kill Amy’s cat? Perhaps in an effort to find out, David accompanies Charlie and his crew on a hunting trip. Soon Charlie and the others lose David in the woods, with Amy’s ex making his way back to the Sumner home. It is here that Charlie rapes Amy. There is much cross cutting between David killing a deer (the motivation for this sudden shift in the mild-mannered writer’s temperament is not adequately explained) and the rape of his wife. Soon Norman (Rhys Coiro), one of Charlie’s beastly crewman, enters and has his turn with Amy. Extreme close-ups of David’s hands as they caress the deer carcass, are intercut with Norman’s hands groping his traumatized victim. During this rape, a bluesy version of “Release Me” is heard on the record player. (Notice it is not a CD player – this is the “backward” south, after all.) The beast has indeed been released. As the men leave, Norman’s gun passes in the foreground of the shot. The men have been hunting a human, in the stalking and raping of Amy, who strangely, never informs David of her ordeal. Bt this is just the most ferocious attack in the film up to this point. The consummate orgy of brutality is still to come.

When Janice goes missing, “Coach”, Charlie and the crew set out to essentially lynch Jeremy, who has taken refuge with the Sumners, setting the stage for the final flood of crimson. This gang, the most repulsive southern villains since DELIVERANCE (and I must also give a nod to that most disgusting of stereotypical icons, Leatherface), besiege the Sumner home to satiate their blood lust. But the beast has also been released in David. As the siege begins, he plays the recording of “Release Me” that was used by Norman and Charlie to add ambience to their horrific rape of Amy. David will now do any act of violence to protect his homestead – much to the displeasure of Amy who begs her husband to turn Jeremy over to the mob. This is a most pronounced irony, of course, because earlier she castigated David for not stepping in to defend Jeremy as he was assaulted by a drunken and delusional “Coach” at a barbecue. He is finally the man you always wanted Amy – savor it. One by one, David dispatches the invaders in the most unimaginably gruesome ways. “I got’em all”, he proudly declares, as the bodies lay scattered about the house. As in the first film, David’s glasses represent the fragile nature of his persona and also mankind’s tenuous hold on civilization. It is after his glasses are shattered that David commits his most violent act. The preacher’s apocalyptic sermon has finally been enacted and fulfilled. The first film ends with David taking the character on which Jeremy is based, home to his family. As the remake ends, we are not even sure of what has become of Jeremy, as if he was not that important in what has just happened. The violence, it seems, was just an animalistic explosion.

Though the Sam Peckinpah version is superior, this new incarnation is not without its pleasures – mainly because there is a little bit of blood lust in all of us. There is a certain kick – a charge we get – from unrelieved mayhem. It is the nature of the beast.

CREDITS: Produced by Marc Frydman. Written and Directed by Rod Lurie. Based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams. Photographed by Alik Sakharov. Production Design by Tony Fanning. Edited by Sarah Boyd. Music by Larry Groupe. WITH: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonzo, Willa Holland, Walton Coggins, Drew Powell, Tim Smith and Richard Folmer.

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August 14, 2013 Posted by | 21st century film, film directors, film drama, screenwriters, suspense films, violence themed films | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment