Wednesday, March 22, 2023


September 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

James Marsden in Straw Dogs

One gets the feeling from reading the reviews of Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs that it will appeal in the main to cinema lovers who embraced the original film by Sam Peckinpah. Certainly the remarks of the critics — Lurie was once one of them — suggest that they found the film more interesting than engaging. For example, A.O. Scott in the New York Times observes, “The new Straw Dogs is at times a faithful copy of the old one, reproducing a great many scenes, shots and passages of dialogue, and tweaking others ever so slightly. … Mr. Lurie’s movie does not quite succeed on its own, though it is pulpy and brutal and at times grotesquely comical. The story does not cohere, and the performances are uneven. But as a piece of film criticism — as a conversation with, and interpretation of, an earlier film — it is intriguing.” In an odd review, Michael O’Sullivan in the Washington Post zeros in on the audience reaction to the film. He observes that Lurie expects the audience to be smart enough to be “disturbed — and not titillated” by the violence at the end of the movie. “The question is: Are we smart enough?” he asks, noting that after the most savage violence depicted at the end of the film, the “audience responded with whooping and scattered applause… making me wonder whether the flaw’s in the new version, or in us.” But some critics are not buying any of this lofty evaluation. Kyle Smith in the New York Post also mentions the reaction of the audience at a New York screening, observing that audiences who watched the Peckinpah movie weren’t hooting. The new Straw Dogs, he writes, “is one of those movies that sits in an armchair, smokes a pipe and reflects ‘seriously’ on ‘the question of violence,’ but the main reason to see it is for the hilariously nasty uses it devises for a bear trap, nail gun, etc.” Peter Howell, in the Toronto Star also remarks on the audience reaction and notes that the reason a ’70s audience recoiled at the violence and today’s audience cheered may have something to do with the attitudes of the times. Back then, he writes, “movies like Straw Dogs had the power to shock and to provoke us into discussing society’s ills. Today, they’re simply violent catharsis, encouraging us to do nothing more than to buy a bigger bag of popcorn to chew on as we gape in satisfaction and count the bullets and bodies. And Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune, appears to have no patience for such analysis. To him the film is merely a “bird-brained remake” that is “miscast, barely functional in terms of technique, stupid and unnecessary.”