Review: Straw Dogs

by Britt Hayes

Screenwriter David Sumner and his actress wife, Amy (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), leave Hollywood for Amy’s childhood home in the south – a place where David can work on his latest screenplay in peace. Once they arrive, though, all the honey-coated nostalgia from Amy’s youth quickly dissipates, as tensions escalate between the couple and the locals, including Amy’s former high school boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard).

A remake of the Sam Peckinpah film from 1971 of the same name, Straw Dogs is a grimy tale of baser instincts, of men motivated and driven by pure id, and the meaning and consequences of being a coward. Unfortunately, this film’s tonal disparities never allow for these messages to speak clearly or eloquently. Director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle) only seems to know what he wishes to say because it’s already been said in a better film, though he’s either unable or unwilling to convey anything poignant.

Straw Dogs concerns itself very little with the conflicts between Amy and David, though there is a brief dialogue exchange regarding Amy’s belief that David is a coward, but it is never the driving force it needs to be. Instead, Lurie chooses to focus on the good ol’ boys of Amy’s youth – the football players (including Amy’s ex) hired by David to repair the old barn on his property, the former alcoholic football coach (James Woods in a delightfully scenery-chewing turn), and a bewildering arc involving a brain-damaged Iraq war veteran (Dominic Purcell), lovingly referred to by the townsfolk as “retarded,” of course.

Straw Dogs begins as a thriller, with stress simmering just beneath the surface, ready to break into a full boil at any moment. And it’s this dramatically thrilling first half of the film that – while riddled with southern clichés and near-agonizing characterizations – feels the most genuine and promising. There’s a moment where something truly deplorable falls upon Amy, creating a distinct fork in the narrative path. Instead of telling David what has happened, when she has every reason to speak up, she chooses to remain silent, thus forgoing the opportunity to create legitimate motivation for the action that follows. Read the rest of this review here.