Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rod Lurie: Remake vs. Peckinpah (Straw Dogs)

Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Straw Dogs, Screen Gems, 2011.
So many 70s-80s films are being remade these days that every week is sure to see a reconfiguring, loose or tight, of an obscure or major past picture. This week its underrated film critic turned writer-director Rod Lurie's faithful homage to the man himself, Sam Peckinpah, and his unbridled 70s revenge classic, Straw Dogs.

Having transposed Great Britain to the American deep South, Mississippi to be exact, Lurie indulges in a symphonic opening on the brooding swamps.Rife with hunting metaphors and the sexual symbolism of tools and weapons, this version immediately pits the urban against the rural, and at times too obviously drags us through the differences.

James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgard, Domonic Purcell and James Woods all shine, bringing their purloined characters to life. Lurie's visually inspired montages belie a deliciously pulpy spirit, reeking of long gone drive-ins and double features. Body language masks terse male aggression as a cosmopolitan screenwriter and his beautiful actress wife return to her middle of nowhere family farmhouse in her backwater hometown, where a creepy ex-boyfriend (Skarsgard) and his hunting buddies go to work on the barn roof. Class and sexual conflict ensues.

Marsden is especially astute at pinpointing the soul of his fascinating character. Bosworth gives a sharp turn, Skarsgard adds a solemn complexity to his villain, and Purcell's sensitive portrayal of a mentally handicapped man is noteworthy.Redneck jock asshole braggadocio boils to the surface in a stereotypical Southern town with a token African American sheriff, punctured by battle symbols (including Marsden's ambitious Stalingrad screenplay), phallic symbols (popsicles, guns, hammers, pool cues), female objectification and a particular emphasis on male dominance in sexual roles.

Lurie fills his flick to the brim with stimulating symbols and innuendo, but can only carry it so far before he must follow the dictates of the plot. What this version is lacking is Peckinpah's masterly vision of male sexual violence. Lurie's strengths lie in the political arena, as displayed in his interesting past films, Deterrence, The Contender, The Last Castle, Resurrecting the Champ and Nothing but the Truth. Straw Dogs is a departure for the disciplined direction of the liberal minded auteur, closer in blood to his sports melodrama Champ than any of its brothers. He revels in the chance to indulge in pulpy stench.

This version of Straw Dogs is the common man vs. celebrity, conservative vs. liberal, manual labor vs. creativity, agnostic vs. Christian, and ultimately remake vs. Peckinpah. The director tears apart tradition and lifestyle, assaulting us with the fluid transgressions of hunting, rape, football and revenge. His B-movie is all about opposites, so polarizing that they collide and somehow meet halfway.

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