Yes, you can go home again. In Straw Dogs, Hollywood writer David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) return to her rural Mississippi hometown. They plan to use Amy’s deceased parents’ homestead as a stress free refuge for David to finish a script he’s writing. Amy has a past with a local carpenter, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) whose tall muscular frame contrasts with the shorter, thinner intellectual David. Friction begins when David hires Charlie and some of his cohorts to do some work on the homestead. Amy resents what she views as David’s weakness in dealing with Charlie and his group’s excesses. David tries to avoid confrontation with them and even ventures to the local tavern to have a drink where a different drama unfolds with the local retired high school football coach (James Woods) who is obsessively angry at a mentally unstable man named Jeremy (Dominic Purcell). The coach sees Jeremy at a constant threat to molest his daughter Janice (Willa Holland). The issues and tension between David and Charlie and his gang, and the coach and Jeremy explode into violence one Friday night.
Straw Dogs is the remake of a 1971 classic. Unfortunately, this version lacks the intensity and character development of the classic of four decades ago. The directors should have more closely followed Sam Peckinpah’s stirring original screenplay. That script did a much better job of developing rich and provocative characters whose motives were clear and understandable. For example, the 1971 movie it was clear why the teenage Janice had an encounter with an older, mentally challenged local. In director/screenwriter Rod Lurie’s instant version it is unclear why the popular attractive Janice would pursue the unstable Jeremy.
James Marsden is every bit as effective in lead role as Dustin Hoffman was in the original film. However, Kate Bosworth lacks credibility as Amy the small town Mississippi girl. She doesn’t have even the slightest trace of a Southern accent. She explains that she had to lose the drawl for a role she played in Hollywood. But when actors enunciate differently for a character they don’t adopt that new way of speaking permanently. Once that role was over she would have reverted back to speaking in a normal (for her southern) tone.
Straw Dogs has a strong set of supporting actors. Alexander Skarsgard is perfectly cast as the not completely evil, not completely nice foe to David. The cinematography is interesting, using very creative angles.
Straw Dogs get a “C” on our cast diversity rating. Mississippi is 37% black but that substantial percentage is not reflected in this film. However, Laz Alonso does have a major role as the local sheriff.
The final verdict on Straw Dogs is that gets our highest rating: “See It” just by a nose. It’s powerfully entertaining and that’s what puts it over the top.
Straw Dogs is rated “R” for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content and pervasive language. It’s 109 minutes.