Thursday, September 22, 2011

Straw Dogs (2011)

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's reveiw -

Straw Dogs, directed and current screenplay by Rod Lurie, based on the earlier screenplay by David Zelag Goodman and Sam Peckinpath based on the novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams, is a relatively high browed reworking of a well-worn story-line, most recently featured only 3 weeks ago with the release of the certainly far lower-browed Shark Night.

What do I mean?  City-dwellers, Amy Sumner (played by Kate Bosworth) and her screenwriting husband David Sumner (played by James Mardsen) come to Amy's hometown in the Missisippi delta to take-up residence father's home left to her after his death.  They mean to keep it as something of a "vacation retreat."  When we see first them speeding along a 2 lane highway cut through a bayou, cypress trees to their left and to their right, they're in David's silver Jag convertible.  David's enthusiastically tapping on the steering wheeling listening to his favorite avant guard jazz, Amy's blonde flowing hair blowing to the back as they race through the Spanish moss covered woods with the top down. They'll fit in just fine ...

The main watering hole in town turns out to be a bar and grill, adorned with the requisite high school football trophies and photographs.  A big confederate flag covers the wall behind the bar. They come-in to meet-up with Charlie (played by Alexander Skarsgård) a local who the two had hired to along with his crew to repair the roof on the barn adjacent to Amy's father's home.  The barn had been damaged by a recent hurricane.  Looking-up at all those football pictures gracing the joint, David spots a picture of Amy in her old cheerleading outfit and Charlie next to her in his high school uniform.  This will be just great ... David asks Amy about this.  She says not to worry.  Besides Charlie while clearly wanting to reduce David with his jaguar hood ornament on his car to ashes with his eyes, manages to keep his composure, smile and be nice.  Before leaving the place, Amy's asked by at least one waitress (a former classmate?) whether the town remains "good enough for her" now that she's a "big Hollywood star."  She responds with a smile and some humility that she was in only a few episodes in some TV show.

The next day, the two are woken-up at dawn by Charlie and their crew, as they come-up to start work on the roof while it's still not unbearably hot blasting heavy-metal music as they do.  David, in his slippers climbs up the ladder to the roof and asks them if they need to come so early and if they must be so loud.  Charlie reminds David that it gets quite hot in southern Mississippi during the day and that this is how things are done "down here."  But he does ask the crew to turn down the music.  A first confrontation has been averted.

But things don't get better in subsequent days.  Amy, an actress after all, wishes to keep fit.  So while her husband works on his screenplay (on all things, the Battle of Stalingrad) inside, each morning, with the crew already sweating on that roof, she goes out jogging in her rather short running shorts and tank top, coming back quite sweaty after her jog through the late-morning southern Mississippi heat and humidity.  One of the guys reminds Charlie that she once was his girlfriend ...

And so it goes.  The guys of Charlie's crew just come to hate David.  They invite him one day to go hunting with them.  They dress him up in an orange reflector hunting jacket and give him a rifle.  With a shot that good ole Francis Macomber of Hemingway's tales would be proud of, David actually finds and shoots a deer, only to find that he was ditched by Charlie and his crew.  They prove to have other plans on their minds.  So while David's out flailing around with the gun he hardly knew how to shoot, walking in an orange flack jacket along a country road hoping that someone would give him ride home, Charlie and one of the other guys from his crew go back to Amy and David's house _to rape Amy_.  (Yes, this is not a pretty tale).

So after a number of other things that pass (yes, it does actually still go down-hill from there...), David and Amy find themselves surrounded in that house at night with Charlie and his crew outside wanting basically finish them off.  There's actually another reason that they are all there at the house with David and Amy inside, but the explanation would actually distract at this point.  But this is where the Stalingrad motif kicks really into play.  Sometime earlier Charlie and his crew did ask David why he wanted to write (of all things) about a battle won "by a bunch of Godless communists."  He told them that it was a story of the triumph of the human spirit (with or without God), that those people found themselves utterly cornered and even though at one point they had lost 90% of their city, they found within themselves something that they themselves didn't think that they had in them in order to win and by doing so they changed history...

And there's then the purpose of this higher browed version of the low-brow and arguably bigoted "red neck menace" tale where we're told, "Ya just can't trust dem hicks, with deir shotguns and Confederate flags on deir trucks."  It is (or will be) Stalingrad all over again "when we finally decide to deal wit dem ..."

We're a polarized country now, and becoming more polarized each year and with each election.   But I don't see how movie after movie about how bad "hicks" are helps anything.  Instead, how about listening to a Carrie Underwood or Brad Paisley album instead?  It would seem like a much more positive way to go, because "hicks" are human beings after all.  And I just don't see what can possibly be gained my making fun of them or _anybody_ else.

And to make the point, let me suggest a number songs ...

Carrie Underwood, "All American Girl"

Brad Paisley, "Welcome to the Future"

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and remind the older American folk like me of songs that we all grew-up with like

Lynard Skynard's, "Sweet Home Alabama"

1 comment:

  1. I discovered this film a few months before the remake, so it was a surprise to see they made one. I doubt that the film will be better, especially with Dustin Hoffman being in the original. Well, I'll find out. Good review.