OK, let me get this straight. I am a successful, wealthy, intellectual screenwriter from Los Angeles. I decide to go with my stunningly beautiful, always provocatively dressed, blonde wife back to her hometown in Mississippi to rehabilitate her childhood house. Almost from the instant we arrive we meet stereotypical, potentially violent, small town red-necks who seem less than a centimeter away from snapping and doing something really bad. Add to this the fact that one of these charmers is my wife’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) who still seems interested in her.
So what do I do? Try to convince my wife that this was a really bad idea? Realize, since I am a screenwriter, that this has all of the makings of a really nightmarish “fish out of water” story (I mean the audience at the AMC Kips Bay Theatre, on Second Avenue, where I saw the film, seemed to understand this right away)? Get back in the car and leave? No, I decide to hire my wife’s amorous ex-boyfriend, and his ignorant “red-necked” crew, to repair the roof of our barn so that they now have an excuse to be in our faces constantly. Then, later, I accept their invitation to go hunting, which puts me in the middle of the woods with a bunch of unhinged individuals who are not only armed, but friends with the man, Charlie, who is after my wife. Charlie, by the way, has not joined us for hunting. Uh oh. Where could he be?
As you may have guessed, I was having trouble buying the motivations of the characters in the new movie “Straw Dogs,” starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth. The film is a remake of the 1971 film of the same title, that was directed and co-written by Sam Peckinpah, and which starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.
“Straw Dogs” has been beautifully shot, by cinematographer Alik Sakharov, has strong production values and a uniformly good cast. In addition to Bosworth and Marsden, James Woods plays crazy, drunken, small town football coach, Tom Hedden. It is the type of nutty, hyper active character that Woods always plays so well.
Hedden is a bit overly concerned about his 15-year-old daughter, Janice (Willa Holland). Hedden’s parental concern leads to the film’s rather forced climactic showdown, brutally violent and almost completely given away, along with the rest of the movie, in the film’s trailer. It plays a bit like an adult, ultra-violent version of Macaulay Culkin using his home made ingenuity to take out the burglars in “Home Alone” (1990). A bear trap introduced in the first act must be sprung by the third act. I half expected Marsden to put his hands on either side of his face and mimic Culkin’s iconic, silent scream, made famous in the “Home Alone” ad campaign.
“Straw Dogs” is a well produced movie with a good cast featuring characters whose choices seem to defy logic in exchange for the convenience of advancing the story. It is certainly ironic that this should happen in a scenario where the main character is a screenwriter.
“Straw Dogs,” director Rod Lurie, 2011,
Screen Gems, 110 minutes, rated R