Friday, May 24, 2013

'Straw Dogs' Atmosphere is Everything!

David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) doing what needs to be done.

This isn't going be an in depth analysis of both films; basically just two simple a short reviews on how one film succeeds and how the other falls a little short.

Straw Dogs (1971)

I finally saw it, the film I've wanted to see since I first heard about it back in 2009. The film is Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs from 1971 starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. In this psychological thriller an American mathematician (Hoffman) and his young English wife (George) move to a rural England town for some peace and quite but are faced with relentless and increasing vicious harassment by various locals.

I've got say that there were quite a few moments in this film when watching Hoffman's character was like looking in the mirror; a timid, socially awkward man who is not one for confrontation. But one of the things I liked about this film was seeing the change slowly occurring within this guy; becoming the man he needs to be in order to deal with his situation.

This film has a lot of atmosphere, it feels intimidating and also I felt that I was actually in this town as unwelcome visitor. This horrible town full of ass-holes with that very typical small town mentality of 'we take care of our own' which isn't as nice as it sounds.

The acting is excellent from just about the entire cast and of course especially from Dustin Hoffman who never ceases to amaze me with his performances.

Straw Dogs is very raw in terms of film-making which I love. And in my opinion it's a staple film of 70s film-making. 

Straw Dogs (2011)

Curiosity got the better of me, I decided to watch the 2011 remake of Straw Dogs and in all honestly it wasn't that bad. The plot is the same but the film takes place in America's south instead of rural England. And the only difference the change in setting brings into the story is a religious under tone and there's also a parallel to the historic World War 2 Battle of Stalingrad but that's more in relation to James Marsden's character of David, originally played by Dustin Hoffman.

The main problem with this remake is that it lacks any real atmosphere and doesn't have that subtlety which is what made the original so effective. It's a little too over the top sometimes, the hunting scene in particular. But it has its moments, I think the best thing the film has going for it is the intensity. And the antagonists are guys you just love to hate, real animals; which makes their demise very satisfying.

The acting is hit and miss; to give you an example, James Wood's performance was a definite miss. In all his scenes he's like "Look at me, I'm acting!" And we have Dominic Purcell playing David Warner's character in the original of the mentally challenge fellow who has been unfairly branded as a paedophile by the majority of the towns folk. He wasn't very good either. James Marsden was neither good nor bad, which has basically always been my opinion of him as an actor. Kate Bosworth by far gave the best performance; she gives a lot of raw emotion. I've always been a fan of her but she is one of those good actresses who mostly appears in not so good films which is a shame.

Overall this remake tries a little too hard and doesn't have that same feeling of isolation and more importantly intimidation. 

One last thing I would like point out is the irony of David Sumner. He is a man who does not like violence, he's not a violent person himself and avoids it where and when ever possible. However his redemption in both the original and remake is violence at it's most extreme.

By Kevin Bechaz

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