Review: Straw Dogs (18)

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IN 1971, legendary director Sam Peckinpah sparked a wide-ranging debate about violence in cinema and the depiction of women with his coruscating thriller Straw Dogs, based on the novel The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams.

A protracted rape sequence courted controversy because some viewers felt the actions of the victim, played by Susan George, were ambiguous.

Now Rod Lurie writes and directs this remake, which transplants the emotional turmoil from a close-knit community in Cornwall to rural Mississippi.

The profession of the unlikely hero has changed from a nerdy mathematician to a screenwriter, but the rest of the plot remains largely untouched, including the harrowing sexual assault and a violent final showdown.

In Lurie’s version, however, the female protagonist seems to be more proactive in helping her husband fend off the men who lay siege to their home.

Screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) transplants his entire life from Hollywood to the Deep South after his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) loses her father.

The town of Blackwater appears to be warm and welcoming.

“We all trust each other here. We don’t even lock our doors,” Amy tells her husband, who is used to living behind metal gates.

At the local diner, David meets Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), who has put in a bid to renovate the roof on the remote farmhouse owned by Amy’s family, where the Sumners have taken up residence.

David asks Charlie and his boys, Bic (Drew Powell), Norman (Rhys Coiro) and Chris (Billy Lush), to start in the morning.

It becomes clear that Charlie still holds a torch for Amy and the screenwriter tries to ward off his rival.

A shocking act of brutality lights the fuse on a powder keg of emotions involving former football coach Tom Heddon (James Woods) and mentally challenged local man Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), and David and Amy are caught in the crossfire.

Straw Dogs is every bit as brutal as its predecessor, but Lurie’s version lacks the same impact, perhaps because we have been numbed by 40 years of senseless carnage on the big screen.

Marsden and Bosworth are solid if unremarkable while Skarsgard glowers with menacing intent, lasciviously ogling Amy in her running shorts.

The final home invasion is breathlessly orchestrated, threatening to teeter into unintentional hilarity thanks to Woods’s over the top supporting performance as a father on a quest for revenge.