Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once wrote, "Heaven and Earth are not humane, and regard the people as straw dogs." Sometimes in our everyday lives, we feel we must take matters into our own hands. This is often discouraged due to violent consequences and psychologically dangerous outcomes that may follow. This new updated thriller it reminds us of this and our primal defensive instincts.
In this rather literal remake of the classic and controversial 1971 film Straw Dogs directed by the notorious Sam Peckinpah, David Sumner (James Marsden) moves out to the rural American mid-west with his young free-spirited wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). He is an L.A. screenwriter and so believes that a quiet hideaway with classical music with help him with his work. But his wife has a history with the town. We learn she was once involved with local rough-tough-n'-ready football jock Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) and immediately there is a sense of intimidation and dread posed upon the very timid and friendly David. What's key to his character is that he avoids confrontation at all costs, but when the situation escalates and things begin to spiral out of control, David must take action for not only his wife's safety but his as well.
Without going into a long-winded explanation, the essence of the film boils down to relationships and how they awaken things inside us we didn't know existed. Marsden portrays this inner struggle brilliantly as he stumbles through the film trying to get the best result out of every situation no matter how increasingly impossible it gets. Bosworth cruises through but is careful not to steal the spotlight from Marsden which could have easily happened. Skarsgard is also impressive as the brooding and nasty antagonist who, along with his three 'redneck goons', muscle in on David's manhood.
Written and directed by Rod Lurie and based upon the 1971 screenplay (itself based on the novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams), this is very close to Peckinpah's original in terms of plot points, but without going into detail regarding the changes, this new film brings much of the bleak subtext of the original to the foreground which flies in the face of the audience (this is a typical Hollywood move). For example, the meaning of the film's title is explicitly stated in the film whereas in the original it's not even hinted at once. However, the disturbing nature of the material still packs a punch and may have some of you looking away in places, but at the end of the day the same message is communicated … just a little less intelligent than the way Peckinpah presented it in cinemas almost exactly 40 years ago.
Straw Dogs is a solid effort from writer/director Lurie and is filmic proof that humans are after-all a species and because of this are prone to the most basic defensive strategies in a desperate fight for survival, leaving with us a very profound memorandum: "Every man has his breaking point."