Straw Dogs

Kate Bosworth as Amy Sumner in 'Straw Dogs'

Audiences for this incendiary button-pusher will mostly divide along two lines: those who think writer-director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Nothing but the Truth) has a hubris overload remaking Sam Peckinpah's 1971 landmark, and those who never heard of Bloody Sam's controversial take on macho violence and what defines rape. Let the games begin.

Forty years ago, Dustin Hoffman starred as David Sumner, the wussy American mathematician who takes his young English wife, Amy (Susan George), back to her native Cornwall farmhouse where an old flame, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), comes sniffing around. Lurie ditches England for the Deep South. James Marsden plays David, a wussy L.A. screenwriter who takes his TV-actress wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), back to her native farm where an old flame, Charlie (True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård), comes sniffing around.

On the surface, the two films are startlingly similar. Amy is raped, and David (unaware of the assault) is otherwise so humiliated as a man by Charlie and his buddies that he takes a brutal stand against their invasion. Peckinpah rubbed our noses in the bloodlust. Lurie invites objectivity. He gets strong, complex performances from actors who won't be painted into corners. (Is the teasingly sexy Amy asking for trouble? Is Charlie capable of regret? Does David need to kill to be a man?) Lurie has David writing a script about Stalingrad, the World War II battle in which the Soviets held on against Hitler, but at crippling costs in suffering. Lurie wants us to see the moral wounds that come from losing control, a solid reason for a remake. Both takes on Straw Dogs hold up a dark mirror to humanity. Choose your own bad medicine.

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From The Archives Issue 1140: September 29, 2011