Lurid, Politically Correct Subtext
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth,
Alexander Skarsgard, James
Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys
Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonso,
Willa Holland, Walton Goggins,
Runtime: 109 minutes
Distributor: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures
Director: Rod Lurie
Executive Producer: Beau Marks, Gilbert Dumontet
Producer: Marc Frydman
Writer: Rod Lurie
Address Comments To:Michael Lynton, Chairman/CEO
Amy Pascal, Chairman - Motion Picture Group
Sony Pictures Entertainment
(Columbia Pictures/TriStar/Screen Gems/Affirm Films)
10202 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232-3195
Phone: (310) 244-4000
Fax: (310) 244-2626
Web Page: www.spe.sony.com/
The story’s setting has been moved from rural Scotland to a small rural town in Mississippi, Blackwater, where Friday night high school football is king. Instead of a meek American mathematician and his beautiful English wife, a Hollywood screenwriter, David, and his beautiful wife, Amy, an actress, have moved to Blackwater to fix up and sell her father’s home and barn. While they’re doing that, David will take advantage of the time and quiet to write his new screenplay about the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II.
On entering the town, Amy and David stop at the local bar and grill to eat. At the bar, while ordering a beer, David almost gets involved in a fight between the drunken, violent foul-mouthed former football coach and the bartender, who’s trying to cut the man off. The coach gets violently upset when the bartender and the sheriff try to calm him down.
It’s during this extended scene that viewers learn that Amy was the popular cheerleader in high school, and her boyfriend was the big football star, a strapping young man named Charlie. Charlie is also in the bar at the time and comes over to talk. Unfortunately, David makes the mistake of hiring Charlie and his three best friends and former teammates to fix the roof of the barn at the farmhouse.
Charlie is clearly jealous that this wimpy intellectual from the West Coast has snagged the girl of his dreams. While Charlie and his friends fix the roof, Amy begins to resent the way Charlie and his friends leer at her. She’s also unhappy about how they take advantage of her husband. So, in one scene, without David’s knowledge, she teases Charlie and his friends to show them they can’t have what David’s got.
Then, one day while David and Amy are away, their white cat is killed and hung in the closet. Amy suspects Charlie and his friends, but David’s afraid to confront them without evidence. He pities them because they used to be treated like revered Chinese, ceremonial straw dogs during their football days but have now been tossed aside because they’re no longer needed.
Instead, David decides to appease Charlie and his friends, and eventually bring up the cat’s murder at the same time, by taking up their invitation to go deer hunting with them. During the hunt, however, they abandon David in the woods. Then, as David lines up his own shot of a marvelous antlered buck, Charlie shows up at the farmhouse and rapes Amy. When Charlie’s finished, his friend Norm suddenly shows up and rapes her too, without Charlie doing anything to stop him.
Amy is too ashamed to mention what happened to David. After being abandoned by Charlie and his friends, who didn’t tell him it’s not hunting season, David decides he has to fire them and pay them off. Charlie agrees, but not before he bullies David into paying him far more than the work they’ve done so far.
Things start coming to a head at the first Friday night football game when the violent former coach’s teenage daughter, Janice, deliberately goes off with a local mentally handicapped man, Jeremy. The coach repeatedly had warned Jeremy to stay away from Janice, but she apparently sees this as an opportunity to rebel against her father and his violent temper.
[SPOILERS FOLLOW] The father goes searching for the two in the gym and locker room facilities, where the daughter has taken Jeremy. Hearing the father call out his daughter’s name, Jeremy places his hand over the girl’s mouth to keep her quiet. He doesn’t realize his own strength, however. The more Janice struggles, the harder Jeremy presses against her face, until she apparently suffocates to death.
Meanwhile, in the football stands, Amy is having flashbacks of the rape scene. Seeing she’s visibly upset for some reason, David takes her home in her father’s old car. While driving down the road, Jeremy suddenly runs out into the street and David smacks him with his car. David stops the car and rushes to Jeremy. He finds Jeremy still alive but with a bloody broken arm. He and Amy decide to take him to their house and call for an ambulance.
The coach learns about the emergency call. He enlists Charlie and his friends to go to the farmhouse and bully David into releasing Jeremy into their custody so they can find out where the coach’s daughter is. Knowing the coach’s violent temper, and the anger between himself and the other men, David refuses. This, of course, results in total violent mayhem, with David feeling that he’s not only protecting Jeremy, he’s also defending his home.
The original STRAW DOGS has always seemed a little cold and unbelievable to some of MOVIEGUIDE®’s staff, so it’s surprising how riveting the STRAW DOGS remake is. Sadly, however, the new movie has heightened most of the basic story’s more lurid events, though, thankfully, the rape scene is slightly toned down. Also, although it could be argued that the new movie is, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a story about the inherent sinfulness in man, the new STRAW DOGS tells an ultimately politically correct story of seduction, rape, teenage sexuality, murder, and extreme violence. There’s also far more foul language in the new movie than there was in the first one. Furthermore, the underage teenage cheerleader lures the adult mentally handicapped guy so she can introduce him to sex.
Ultimately, the combination of all this lurid, disturbing content is abhorrent. Also, although the movie’s political correctness isn’t completely propagandistic or played in a didactic manner, it’s definitely annoying and mindless. For example, the villains are all macho white Southern males who love football and hunting. Of course, the good sheriff happens to be black, and a war hero to boot. Finally, in a church scene, the Southern pastor is a somewhat, though not entirely, liberal cliché of what such a pastor would be. Then, when David becomes bored by the Sunday service and walks out, it’s the jealous and clearly messed up Charlie who points out to David that what he did was really rude. It’s also Charlie who attacks David’s brief statements that he doesn’t believe in God and is uncomfortable with religious beliefs and practices. Charlie’s lines would have been more positive if they had come from Amy or the black sheriff than one of the bad guys. Thus, while the anti-religious and anti-Christian content here is implicit rather than explicit, it seems to fit very well within the movie’s politically correct attitudes about Southern culture.
In the end, therefore, STRAW DOGS encourages viewers to side with the atheist-leaning liberal intellectual against the churchgoing, violent, hypocritical white Southern bullies. To be fair, it does seem that the movie sides with Charlie when he tells David he was rude for walking out in the middle of the pastor’s sermon. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. The other good thing in this mix is that it becomes clear during the Friday night game that even the atheist-leaning intellectual can enjoy a rousing game of American football.
The original STRAW DOGS has always seemed a little cold and unbelievable to some of MOVIEGUIDE®’s staff, so it’s surprising how riveting the STRAW DOGS remake is. Sadly, however, the new movie has heightened most but not all of the basic story’s more lurid events. That includes more foul language and a subplot about the former coach’s rebellious teenager daughter. There’s also some politically correct content. All the bad guys in STRAW DOGS are churchgoing, violent white Southern bullies.