15 January: Straw Dogs

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

This movie came recommended to me as an example of redneck noir, so I gave it a shot over the weekend. Unfortunately, it’s heavy on the redneck, light on the noir. This Rod Lurie remake of the Sam Peckinpah original missed the mark for me, in several areas.

Here’s the set-up. Hollywood screenwriter, David, and his Mississippi wife, Amy, move back to her hometown — to give him space and solitude to  write.  Amy has become a TV star (in a show written by David, which is how they met), so she’s the local girl done good.

Problem is, when they move back to her recently deceased father’s house, they run into the timeworn clash of Amy’s past (namely her old boyfriend and high school football star, Charlie — there’s even a picture of him with Amy the cheerleader hanging on the wall of the local diner). David is your standard East Coast, preppy, pretty intellectual. Charlie, and his construction crew (which has been hired to repair David and Amy’s barn) are your pretty standard beer-guzzlin,’ gun totin,’ pool shootin,’ rednecks.

So what could possibly go wrong, right? Well, lots does. Amy and David’s relationship is tense to say the least, a passive aggressive Amy alternatively lusting over her former flame and considering her husband less than man — even after Charlie and his buddy rape her in her own home (this being accomplished by an unbelievable “hunting trip” for David set up by Charlie). James Woods takes a turn as the drunken former football coach with a hair-trigger temper and medieval code of paternal instinct for his 15-year-old cheerleader daughter, who lures and tries to seduce the local mentally handicapped man, Jeremy.  When this happens — and they nearly get caught by the drunken former football coach, Jeremy accidentally kills the daughter. Through a series of unfortunate events, Jeremy is struck by the car David and Amy are in as they head home. When the ol’ ball coach and Charlie and Co. learn of this, they descend on David and Amy’s home to take Jeremy away and mete out some “justice.”

David, defending his home, bows up on these barbarians and kills them all in truly creative fashion. The end.

Now, first of all, I really admire Peckinpah’s work. Yes, he is no stranger to violence in his films, and this remake isn’t either. It’s a violent movie, but I disagree with one reviewer that claimed the movie celebrates violence. I thought it was all in context. And while the movie has its moments of true tension — almost scary moments — the story loses its momentum in several spots.

My real problem with the movie came from other areas, though. First of all, Amy (Kate Bosworth) is just a hot mess. We never get a lot of information about her, so her motives are always unclear. Thus, she comes off as bitchy, passive-aggressive, cold, horny and demanding. Sometimes all at once. Mostly, she confuses the story with her actions.

Secondly, there’s no noir here, and the Mississippi characters are all hopelessly stereotyped. “Down here, we know cars and guns,” is a line of dialogue for example. Along with the camouflage, the hunting (dead of summer, broad daylight deer hunting?? I don’t think so), the pick-up trucks, the Lynyrd Skynyrd, low morals, you name it.

And James Woods’ portrayal of the coach is cringe-worthy — if he overacted any more in this movie, he would explode. Which is really too bad, because Woods is an awesome actor.

Even the end is a little forced, because there’s no real closure to the story (and I don’t mean resolution). So, I wouldn’t put this one in the redneck noir category. I’d just put it in the Bad Remake drawer.

On sale now for 99 cents: A Simple Murder. Get it here.

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