Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is one of the most controversial movies ever made; and certain parts of it remain a tough sit to this day. It’d easily be near the top of my list of films that NO ONE has any business remaking; and that goes double for when the remaker in question is well-meaning but chronically-heavy-handed Rod Lurie…
The original featured a young Dustin Hoffman as a nerdy American college professor who moves into a rural farmhouse in his new wife’s backwater British hometown; where his intellectual/pacifist nature puts him on the wrong side of the leader of the local hooligans… who happens to be the wife’s ex-boyfriend. Infamously, it includes a scene where said ex participates in the gang-rape of the wife, and the staging of the scene implies that she partially (or wholly) welcomes/encourages the experience because she’s somehow not “over” the bad guy or the brute/caveman ‘type’ he represents.
In turn she (and other events) “goad” Hoffman’s character with escalating moments of emasculation (the “battle” for The Girl is symbolic of the caveman/”new-man” culture-clash, is the idea), culminating in a “fight or flight” seige sequence where he’s forced to improvise a brutal defense of the homestead, “Die Hard” style, when the bad guys attack. It’s all played pitch-black, right down to the implication that the wife’s “rescue” is unimportant next to Hoffman’s “rescue” of his own alpha-confidence over the heavies.
This trailer for the new one looks about like I’d feared it would: Overly-slick and void of the key moral ambiguity that made the original more than just another revenge-exploitation movie. The action has moved to the American south, and it looks like Lurie’s most consistent weakness – blunt socio-political message-mongering is on full display: The hero (James Marsden) is now a “liberal” atheist/agnostic Hollywood screenwriter (author-insert much?) while the main baddie is an ex-jock redneck churchgoer. Yeesh.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate where Lurie is coming from, but it seems a bit much even just from this trailer. The original had it’s omnipresent bigger themes (America vs. Europe, urban vs. rural, brains vs. brawn, etc.) but they were dressing for the main setup of a modern person’s forced-descent into primal survival-mode; remaking it into a straight-up “Red State vs. Blue State” thing seems like a tremendous missed-opportunity.