In his effort to remake a Sam Peckinpah classic, writer/producer/director Rod Lurie forgot to include one essential element: suspense. Much of what we see follows the original film closely — trading the English countryside for the rural township of Mississippi, but keeping the clash between differing lifestyles. However, this modernized take on drumming up one's animal side lacks the same driving force that eventually erupts into ruthless violence. In moving the locale a bit closer to home, there are some slight variations on character development which can be appreciated, yet those same small personality traits are also the cause of the movie being deficient when it comes to escalating fear and apprehension.
James Marsden of the first three 'X-Men' films plays Dustin Hoffman's role, David, the modern civilized man and pacifist who abhors hostile confrontations in any shape or form. In this version, our reluctant hero's intellectualism is downplayed somewhat in that he's a screenwriter rather than a mathematician. He remains a man of the time nonetheless, preferring to talk things out, but easily pops a vein when he feels stressed. Marsden does well in his portrayal, showing his character clearly does like being pressured and has minor bursts of agitation, which are quickly controlled and subdued. Despite appearing wimpy in a few sequences, David is likeable and honorable because we understand his position.
Other than dealing with his long-repressed rage, David's true Goliath comes by way of Alexander Skarsgård, son of Stellan and best known as the vampire Eric Northman of HBO's 'True Blood.' Standing at over six-feet tall, the Swedish-born actor doesn't have to do much to seem intimidating, but his attempts, along with filmmakers', to humanize a man capable of terribly violent acts, namely the rape scene, isn't all that convincing. However, placing more attention on the town's former football star as Amy's (Kate Bosworth) childhood beau adds a believable layer of fretful rivalry between the two men, which actually works well as events give rise to bloodshed with this unspoken conflict at the heart of it.
Unfortunately, this makes the woman caught in the middle nothing more than an object of desire, and sadly, Bosworth acts accordingly. There's very little to her character that generates interest apart from any physical attributes, which male characters eyeball like slobbering dogs. And the camera tends to do much the same. Even worse, and arguably the most questionable point of the entire film, is having Amy intentionally undress in front of unmistakably-established rednecks. It does to some degree create a level of discomfort for all, but it also lessens her argument about being respected as a person only moments before. Amy may be a modern woman, but we're hardly made to think of her as David's equal.
Stylistically, 'Straw Dogs' is a more streamlined version of its predecessor, yet the plot never truly benefits from this. Granted, Rod Lurie gets the job done, and packs on the pressure with a gripping showdown that does pay off, but he very noticeably lacks Peckinpah's gritty talent for generating tension from an everyday conversation or a simple stare. The one-time film critic and journalist makes his viewers wade through a few minor confrontations, mostly between James Woods's coach and Dominic Purcell's Jeremy Niles, without really orchestrating some apprehension between his characters. He seems more concerned with displaying his heavy-handed camerawork and stressing the Stalingrad metaphor.
What it comes down to is being made to wait for the inevitable, which leaves us with several moments of banality. Lacking the heart-racing impact of Peckinpah's original, Lurie's well-intentioned remake is ultimately a lesson on how creating suspense with the camera alone is no easy task. It's a decent effort, but it's clearly not his strong suit.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Rod Lurie's 'Straw Dogs' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue, eco-vortex case. At startup, viewers can skip through a series of previews for other upcoming releases. Afterwards, we have the standard main menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Straw Dogs' debuts with a generally favorable and strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode which has its moments, but never really leaves an impression.
The freshly-minted transfer, presented in a 2.40:1 window, is clean of any glaring compression artifacts, but it's a bit inconsistent in terms of resolution. Most problematic are indoor sequences with poor lighting, where shadows appear murky and often ruin background information. At their worst, these scenes look a tad noisy, with lackluster blacks which weaken and flatten the image.
Exterior shots fare much better with improved brightness and contrast levels, allowing for some wonderful views of David and Amy's country home. Primaries are quite colorful and dramatic while the softer hues display a great deal of warmth. However, in poorly-resolved scenes, the palette falters noticeably. On the whole, fine object detailing is crisp and distinct with plenty of visible definition in the architecture and surrounding wilderness. Unfortunately, this is countered with many moments of blurriness and mostly good texture around facial complexions, making the entire presentation satisfying but far from perfect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a bit more enjoyable and exciting as it takes more advantage of the higher resolution codec.
Most apparent is the convincing use of the surround speakers, delivering atmospherics effectively to create an amusing ambience. The distant sounds of crickets chirping and other wildlife is surprisingly consistent and nicely enhances the soundfield. The score also extends into the back, enveloping listeners satisfyingly with Larry Groupé's music before giving way to the story's suspense. Dialogue is very well-prioritized and clear in the center, making every tonal inflection crisp and unmistakable. Imaging is wide with good acoustical presence and fluid movement between the channels. The mid-range is relatively expansive with terrific clarity during the loud, sudden eruptions of music and action while low bass is deep and appropriately responsive to each scene.
All in all, the lossless mix is persuasive at drawing viewers into the suspense and delivering some mighty tensive moments.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Straw Dogs (2011)' arrives with a very small set of special features, but they're worth a watch for anyone who enjoyed the film.
Rod Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's classic psychological thriller, 'Straw Dogs,' suffers from a lack of the same slow build-up of apprehension and suspense which made the original such a memorable piece of filmmaking. Some small variations of the story for modern audiences can be appreciated, but much of the film ultimately falls short though it still makes for a good effort. The Blu-ray arrives with a good video presentation, better audio quality, and extras that offer some interesting moments, but leave much to be desired. In the end, this is worth a rental.