‘Straw Dog’ barks but never bites

Andrew Fergin, Editor in Chief

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When Straw Dogs hit theatres in 1971 it was controversial, challenged the maturity of its audience with a drawn out rape scene that highlighted the victim’s inner struggle with their feelings towards their rapist, and was staggeringly immersive.
Now, in 2011, Rod Lurie’s identically titled remake of Straw Dogs hits theatres but fails to channel the depth and complexity that made its predecessor great.
It’s strange that Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs feels so different given that aside from location, the remake is nearly identical to its predecessor.
Really there’s only one key difference between the two films but it’s an important difference. Where the original film was intricate and thought provoking Lurie’s version is predictable and if a movie is predictable there’s little reason to keep watching.
The plot starts off simply enough. David Sumner (James Marsden) and wife Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) move to Amy’s southern home town in the hopes that the change of scenery will give David the creative boost he needs to finish his screenplay.
The first half hour of the film introduces the various noteworthy characters and gives the audience a glimpse of their assorted eccentricities, which also marks the start of the film’s problems. Each glimpse is as subtle as a windowless van with the words “free candy” emblazoned on its sides parked next to a middle school.
It’s as though Lurie was scared the audience might miss some small bit of foreshadowing and so felt it necessary to hang signs around the characters’ necks that read things like “I’m a rapist” or “I’m going to try to murder you.”
It’s a shame that the foreshadowing is handled so poorly because Lurie’s structural plot is cleverly organized and had he used some restraint Straw Dogs would have been deeply suspenseful.
Marsden does an admirable job portraying David Sumner’s transformation from a non-confrontational city slicker into a man of pride and strong principles those who knew him when he was on The Nanny, however, will likely find it hard to take him seriously.
Bosworth on the other hand, plays Amy Sumner with a degree of bipolar-ism, never seeming certain on whether she’s a simple yet strong and independent personality or an emotionally mixed-up submissive.
Alexander Skarsgard does a passable job as lead protagonist Charlie Venner though often fails to convey the full emotion demanded by his scenes.
Taking its flaws into consideration, Straw Dogs is still a good film for viewers who want something other than the slew of action movies that have been coming out recently. Viewers looking for a film that will challenge them however should look elsewhere, as after the half hour mark they’ll know everything that’s going to happen and probably how as well.