Dogs High-Fived

Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs — a movie that Screen Gems likes so much that it won’t release it until September 2011 — has gotten a boost from an Ain’t It Cool contributor called “Le Stephanois,” who caught Lurie’s melodrama at a recent Syracuse University screening. I’m impressed by this because (a) Mr. Rififi writes well and (b) claims to prefer Lurie’s remake to Sam Peckinpah‘s 1971 original.


Straw Dogs local bad guys (l. to r.) Billy Lush, Drew Powell, Rhys Coiro and Alexander Skarsgard

“It’s hard for me to recall a remake that has drawn as much ire as [Lurie's] Straw Dogs, which seemingly everyone (at least everyone on the IMDb message boards) has lambasted and written off entirely,” he begins. “They refuse to believe that it could be good in its own right, that Lurie could have actually made a decent film. After seeing it, I can confidently say that anyone who might have harbored some prejudice towards the film should, quite simply, be ashamed.

“Neither I nor Rod Lurie need tell you that he is not trying to best Peckinpah, though it appears the naysayers demand some sort of explanation as to why it’s being remade.

That’s easy. Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is arguably the best example of the late director’s misogynist ideology (this coming from a major fan of his work). Lurie, whose works are often defined by strong female protagonists, set out to reverse the original’s misogynist implications.

“David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden, Kate Bosworth) are certainly recognizable as reincarnations of Peckinpah’s David and Amy, though their ideals are altogether different. Lurie puts different human beings in situations close to what Peckinpah devised, and he does so brilliantly.

“The plot of Lurie’s Straw Dogs — David and Amy Sumner seek solace in Amy’s hometown so that David can write in peace, only to be brutally antagonized by the locals — hews close to the original, save for some slight alterations. David is a screenwriter and not a mathematician, and the setting is the fictional town of Blackwater, Mississippi, and not rural England. The townies’ new identities then correlate.

“One of the most admirable qualities of Lurie’s film is its slow-burning tension. This is not an obnoxiously chaotic exercise in extreme violence, but a classically photographed, deliberately paced and thought-provoking thriller — a rarity in today’s mainstream cinema.

“Just because it is not relentlessly violent does not mean it is in any way Straw Dogs Lite. Indeed, it is just as brutal and arguably as discomforting as the original, a major triumph considering Lurie’s ideological framework is nowhere near as controversial as Peckinpah’s misogynist mindset.


Straw Dogs costars Kate Bosworth, James Marsden.

“The siege at the end of the film is extraordinarily riveting, the ending itself a revelation of sorts. And none of it is cheap or self-indulgent; the violence is beautifully choreographed, achieving a rhythmic intensity that is well-nigh overwhelming. It is during the siege that Marsden makes a quantum leap as a performer, projecting an eerie confidence that lends an extra degree of weight to the film’s haunting conclusion.

“The utilization of the film’s setting is similarly outstanding, as the bloodthirsty nature of a familiar southern football town mirrors the air of violence that persists throughout the picture. The meaning of the title is clearer (it’s almost as if the title didn’t necessarily suit Peckinpah’s film, considering how well Lurie articulates its meaning), and the town’s having an identity imbues the film with a unique atmospheric tension.

“Lurie masterfully cultivates that tension so as to constantly remind the audience that they are in the presence of men who are predisposed to committing acts of violence with a primal mentality, having been conditioned to beat the hell out of anyone that crosses them, be it on the field or in a more domestic arena.

“The acting is uniformly terrific, and Alexander Skarsgard might just be the best thing about the movie. In a subtle tour de force, Skarsgard is utterly mesmeric; you cannot take your eyes off him for one moment, and you even root for him and relate to him in the oddest scenarios. As a former high school standout whose knee — and scholarship — lasted just three semesters at the University of Tennessee, Skarsgard is much more relatable and dynamic than the Charlie (Del Henney) in Peckinpah’s film.

“There is much to be said for Marsden and Bosworth too, both of whom give the finest performance of their careers thus far. Marsden tackles the Dustin Hoffman role with uncommon poise, unintimidated by the stature of the man whose part he inherited. Bosworth gives a mature, nuanced and at times disquieting turn, revealing a side of herself that should lead to plenty more roles in high-pedigree dramas and thrillers.

“Lurie’s film is not perfect, though it should obliterate the low expectations placed upon it by a small army of Peckinpah fans. They’re certainly entitled to their opinion, but they would be wise to reserve their judgment until the picture is released next year.”

In a recent HE piece called called “Little Doggies” I expressed frustration with Screen Gems’ decision to delay the release of Lurie’s film.

“The initial plan was to open it in spring 2011, but last March it was bumped to September 2011,” I wrote, “which seemed to me like a candy-ass move. Distributors always delay when they’re scared. They tend to put off releasing so-called intimidating films on their slate the same way financially-troubled folk will sometimes put off paying the mortgage.

Straw Dogs is a smart but violent film with a rape scene, sure, but why bite into a sandwich if you don’t intend to chew and swallow?

“The general rule of thumb is that if your film isn’t released within a year or so after the end of principal photography, you’ve got some kind of worries going on. Inviting press down to the Straw Dogs shoot last fall and then announcing it won’t open until…oh, who knows but maybe Spring 2011 or September 2011 is like purchasing a Variety trade ad saying, ‘Okay, we’re a little scared — we admit it. We picked up the sandwich, we bit into it and…uhm, we’re not quite sure how to play it.’

I wrote that I’d been told “there’s nothing wrong with the film.” HitFix’s Drew McWeeny seized on this and asked if I’d written it because Lurie is a friend. “Because any other time people delay films, it’s the movie’s fault,” he said. “But in this case, you’re predisposed to believe the filmmaker, so in this case, it’s those gutless distributors.

“For what it’s worth, I have spoken to several people who have seen the film, and there wasn’t much good they had to say about it. They ranged from fans of the original to people who didn’t realize it was a remake, and not one of them seemed enthused or engaged by it. And, no, it wasn’t because they were ‘scared’ of it, either.”

I don’t know who Le Stephanois is, and I suppose I have to consider that he may be a Lurie ally of some kind, but if he’s not and just some guy who saw the film at Syracuse, then what McWeeny has been told about the film is at the very least questionable.

  • anonymous2

    Chill out Jeff. The guy lives in Syracuse and you know how we feel about film sensibilities in upstate New York. Also, the original is untouchable.

  • Nick X

    Anything McWeeny says is suspect.

  • ZayTonday

    It got thumbs up from a friend of mine who attended a screening about a month ago, I believe it was in Huntington Beach.

  • Mr. F.

    Wait — isn’t that “Billy” from Entourage?!

    I’m out.

  • raygo

    Lurid, southern white trash melodrama with beautiful people doing bad things, probably covered with sweat. Count me in.

  • Krillian

    I take it in the remake, Amy does not want to be raped. That was the impression I got from the original, and it was only when the second guy jumped in that she was horrified by what was happening.

    The original isn’t really that violent either, until the end. Saw it for the first time about two years ago.

    I hope it’s genuine about its rising tensions, skewing closer to Changing Lanes for two acts rather than something like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake when all southern rural folks are serial killers waiting to happen.

  • raygo

    Only concern, not a huge Kate Bosworth fan, and I don’t see her appeal. Am I missing something? Is there a performance I should see to help me re-evaluate her?

  • clancy

    Jeff- why the sarcasm about the release date? Why does it show less confidence to release in September than it does in, say March? Isn’t September the start of the Oscar season?

    And, yes, that is Billy. Reese Choiro.

  • Eloi Wrath

    Billy from Entourage looks like Martin Starr in that picture. Could be brothers.

  • bents75

    I’m glad to hear Alexander Skarsgard is getting noticed here. I’d struggle to think of many people who have created more badass characters than his Eric Northman on True Blood. He’s easily the best part of that show.

    I’d also say he was the best part of Generation Kill – dude is total scene stealer.

  • Eloi Wrath

    Still baffling that they didn’t go with Skarsgard for Thor.

  • http://moviebob.blogspot.com/ THE MovieBob

    Eloi,

    Plenty going on re: TV etc, likely harder to commit without major financial concessions to a MAJOR amount of “on-call” time – pretty much all the Avengers main guys apparently had to sign for sequels to their own movies, plus to Avengers itself and to walk-ons in eachothers’ movies.

  • MilkMan

    On the Intimidation Scale, that pack rates about a 1 out of 10. The parking lot attendant at my dry cleaners is scarier than all four of those poseurs combined.

    Peckinpah would have made Rod Lurie cry just by looking at him.

    In the original, the Hoffman character is so dweeby that his sexual panic makes perfect sense; he looks exactly like the type of man whose woman you could steal. Marsden, with his PX90 abs and sculpted cheekbones, does not evidence one ounce of either sexual panic or insecurity. So there goes that.

    Hopefully Lurie will have the good sense to change the rape scene. Instead of forcing his penis into her, what the rapist should do is shove a Monte Christo sandwich and Banana Milkshake into Bosworth’s tenders.

  • Gabe@ThePlaylist

    I have a feeling this will be more like a neutered I Spit On Your Grave than something with a resemblance to Straw Dogs.

  • Big Black

    What is the appeal in attempting to either invoke or bury the memory of a great film by an interesting and acknowledged master-film maker, under the guise of removing its “misogyny”? If they find Peckinpah’s film so objectionable that they need to start injecting pretty people, changing its setting, and -most insulting- removing the troubling sexual aspects while punching-up the violence level, why the fuck are they still using the name of the previous film instead of the original novel that they claim they are so smitten with? They trade on the previous adaptation’s fame while simultaneously attempting to appear as if they are rejecting its most controversial angles… If they called this thing The Siege on Trencher’s Farm, I wouldn’t have a case, but this film is standing on Peckinpah’s shoulders while pissing on his head. No thanks.

  • LexG

    WALSH POWER.

    Hope he blows in and tells Marsden to “Fuck off, SUIT!”

  • Gaydos

    Let’s see, all of the brutes, apes, miscreants, violent neanderthals in Peckinpah’s film were….men.

    Hoffman is a coward and Susan George is a tease.

    The rape scene starts with George’s EX-BOYFRIEND (can we assume they slept together) forcing himself upon her. She’s angry, disturbed, confused before going along with his aggression.

    Then there’s the horror, on his part and hers, when his friends attack her. No glee, no gusto, just horror.

    So….

    Misanthropic, perhaps. Misogynistic, perhaps not.

    I am glad, however, to hear we now have a new justification for pillaging the great films of the past.

    Thanks to the Studios, we have folks today who will get hired as pure ideological germ warriors and clean out all those bad thoughts lurking in the corners of films made by those folks whose consciousnesses (sp?) weren’t properly sanitized and authorized for public consumption back in the day.

  • Orotund Vowel

    Part of the strength of Peckinpah’s film is he stages it in a quiet, bucolic English town. You don’t expect the local toughs to be as bad as they are. It’s a surprise. Move it to Mississippi and instead we have the re-hashed, trite southern troglodytes we all know and love. How is that better?

    As for fixing the misogyny…Susan George, yes, is a little disappointed in her old man. What woman isn’t? She fancies a fling with an old flame. What wife doesn’t after a while? But the rape changes everything. Is this the bit that someone finds misogynistic? Do they think her character is inviting her rape? So if I make love to the wife and then invite my fantasy football league to have their way with her someone interprets that as her fault? Tommyrot.

    Fiction arises from poor decisions. She makes a poor decision because the story has to have one, and the train of the story then runs everybody over. I don’t agree it is anti-woman. If anything the movie is anti-macho. Hoffman’s character reveals everything at the very end. Peckinpah lets us know that as horrifying as this has been, Hoffman’s character revels in it; it is something he will look back on and treasure. This is what we all are, men, gangs, towns, countries, just a bunch of idiots trying to keep the other boys off our women.

    This is my favorite Peckinpah movie, so I’m prejudiced, but I’m not hearing much to make me keen on the remake.

  • moviechick44

    Shouldn’t have been remade in the first place. All Peckinpah movies should be off limitis to remakes. The thought that Hollywood is thinking about remaking The Wild Buch further inclines me to believe that if that is a go, we are surely in the end times.

    I like that people who have talked about Hoffman in the original mentioed that he is a dweeb, a sexual geek. There is no way I buy that from James Mardesen. Anyway if you were to remake this film, is Kate Bosworth and James Mardesen the best you could come up with ?

    I’m not buying in or will see it. I have already seen it. I own it.

  • Wrecktem

    That top pic looks like a cast photo from Queer As Folk. Surely not the impression the filmmakers were going for?

  • LexG

    Alexander Sarsgaaaaaard, another hard-working actor who must have CLAWED AND SCRATCHED his way to the top. Can’t even imagine the adversity he faced trying to break into Hollywood… with a successful, prolific and well-liked character actor/sometime movie star Dad.

    Another showbiz success story.

    Bet he can’t even count the dogshit edit bay and transcription jobs he had to hustle at to make rent while getting his acting going.

    Oh, wait, what’s that? One call from Daddy and this Swiss douche had his own TV show?

    HOW CAN THINGS LIKE THAT NOT KILL YOU TO YOUR SOUL?

  • adorian

    Skarsgard is from Sweden, not Switzerland. But I guess you will still say he’s a douche.

  • JeffC

    I’ve only seen Skarsgard in Generation Kill, so I can’t picture him as anything other than a complete bad ass.

  • LexG

    Fuck all actors, fuck movies, fuck Hollywood, and fuck good-looking people who can stay in shape and keep their hair because they don’t work a shitty transcription job.

    Fuck the world. I want to kill myself.

  • NickF

    Oh look, another meltdown.

  • LexG

    You should be melting down too. Yes, you.

    If you aren’t famous, if you aren’t an actor, you ain’t shit.

  • Chauncey

    We go to the city, we lay low for a couple of days, find that Zoltar Machine, make your wish…you’ll be home by Thursday!

  • C’est un film

    Let’s also point out that Lurie’s son, Hunter, goes to Syracuse.

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