on December 22, 2002
Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs is set in deepest darkest Cornwall among a collection of yokels and idiots that would give the inbreds from Deliverence a run for their money the half witted sexual deviant stakes. Leaving aside obvious grievances that the Cornwall Tourist Board will have with the film, what lies beneath the surface of this slick and stylish Western-by-the-sea ia a far more intriguing, puzzling and reasonably disturbing proposition. Taking residence in the quiet, backwoods (surely backwards?) english county with his english wife, Amy (Susan George), mathematician David Summer (Dustin Hoffman) is hoping the peaceful rural surroundings will help him finish a theory he is working on. Only problem, this is Amy's birth place, and the couple are soon stirring the attentions of the locals, particularly Amy's ex-boyfriend. And the attentions are not exactly welcome.
Peckinpah's odyssey of masculine enlightenment is troubling in a number of ways. There, is of course, the now infamous rape scene, itself considered too daring by UK censors for the best part of twenty years due to its "she likes it really" philosophy. This may grab all the headlines, but the real trouble here is with the issues this, and the later siege at the cottage, present to the audience.
Straw Dogs is essentially a film about the empowering effect of affirmative of affirmative action, of violence. In its exploration of primal urges and instinct it probably shares more in common with a film such as Fight Club than the 'Rape' films of its era, such as Clockwork Orange, with which it is constantly and unfairly bracketed. Peckinpah's film is a much darker and more intriguing piece than Kubrick's modern morality fable, but intrigue does not always guarantee satisfaction. He is grappling with a serious and sensitive idea here, and he has to applauded for his bravery in doing so, although Peckinpah was never one to shy away from 'difficult' issues. But for all his intentions (good or otherwise) it is maybe this gung-ho, no holds barred balls in hand attitude that is the films flaw. The final scene, in which David, who has for the majority of the film been avoiding any kind of conversation, much to the annoyance of Amy, dispatches the various locals who are attempting to break into his house in a variety of gruesome ways, is probably the most troubling. As he drives away from the scene, David allows himself a self-satisfied smile. He has become empowered, more of a 'man'. This allied, to the rape scenes "she likes a bit of rough" sentiments seem to create a rather simplistic and quite ugly moral philosophy. Amy is raped by her ex, who to her is the symbol of the rugged primal male psyche which she has for too long been deprived of from David. Men should be men and anyway thats how women want them to be anyway, regardless of whatever deeper implications others may place on the film, seems really to be its message.
The blame for this can really only be pointed at one man, Sam Peckinpah. Peckinpah is one of America's greatest directors, but his mysoginistic tendencies hamper his handling of a complex matter. The film is fascinating, watchable, interesting and nigh on essential for followers of cinema, but it is hard to watch it without being confused by its intentions, and without taking away a slightly sour taste in the mouth.
It would be difficult to call the film an honourable failure, so an interesting one would be more appropriate. Still, imagine what would have happened if Hitchcock had directed it... I dread to think.
on November 13, 2001
I'm paraphrasing, but the movie gets its title from a bit of some old Japanese philosopher's pithy observation that "Heaven and earth is ruthless and treats men like straw dogs; the sage is ruthless and treats men like straw dogs." In other words, the tag-line that producers of *Straw Dogs* came up with entirely misses the point: it's HOFFMAN who treats the Cornish brutes like straw dogs. Hoffman, sage. Cornish brutes, straw dogs. Anyway, as for the movie itself . . . it's not the best Peckinpah. However, one wonders uneasily if this movie, average as it is, actually sums up Peckinpah's "philosophy", if he indeed had one. If so, it reveals an utterly childish mindset, infected with machismo and other Norman-Mailerisms. It reinforces certain idiotic men's belief that women enjoy rape, for instance. That's for starters -- the rest of the film indicates that you're not a man until you become violent, blah blah blah, it's the mentality of a 6th-grade bully. A disappointing insight into the mind of a great film artist. On the plus side, Dustin Hoffman and Susan George have a perverse, edgy chemistry together (perhaps a really good movie could've been made about how these two completely opposites got married in the first place). But this gets subsumed in the leering, violent hijinks that dominate the 2nd half of the film. *Straw Dogs* is undeniably accomplished . . . I'm just not overly impressed with what it accomplishes.
on March 14, 2001
Call me old fashioned but I believe when violence is used in a movie it should be done with integrity as a vehicle for expressing something greater than itself and not merely for its own sake. Kubrick succeeded brilliantly in doing this in a Clockwork Orange wherein the movies violence is used reflectively as an incisive critique on the ineffectiveness of criminal law control methods. No such redeeming qualities are to be found in Straw Dogs and even the fine performance given here by master duffus Dustin Hoffman is but frugal conpensation for the insipid violent innuedo that is this film. Hoffman plays an American mathmatics prodigy who has recently moved to a small Northern English village to share a house with his nubile young companion. He hires local men to do some restorations on the house, one of whom proclaims to have had previous carnal relations with his employers mistress. Tensions arise, beer is split, guns come out of the closet (and a dead cat too- don't ask), testostorone needs an outlet and by the end all bloody hell breaks loose. We are given next to no information about our protagonists past or reasons for leaving the States and none whatsoever about his girlfriend. Their relationship seems totally arbitrary; he the high brow professor, she a bubble gum munching dilettante they are diametrical opposites with nothing shared in common save the mutal need for sex. It's a gross missreckonig of the filmaker to blithely assume the viewer should be expected to care about such scantily developed characters. Why three stars then? Peckinhams depiction of the repressed English characters "stiff upper lip" demeanour is bang on and worth some merit. Likewise he succeeds brilliantly in exposing the clash between two vastly different cultures. In terms of emotional impact this film will leave the viewer exhausted by it's end.Usually thats tantamount to a having a satisfactory movie going experience here it merely leaves the viewer feeling he's been swindled out of his emotions and asking by the films end "What was the whole point?"
on February 20, 2001
An intriguing piece of filmmaking with Hoffman has an engaging, although somewhat offbeat choice as a lead. It's really the atmosphere and not the violence that gives this film its strength as it conveys the multiple messages in its brooding and eerie nature. The violence seems almost like a second thought and while telling, doesn't reveal the neanderthal qualites of even the most civilized of men in quite the same manner. It's true Peckinpah is known for his rather poor portrayal of women, but this one really takes the cake. Her characterization is simply another slap in the face to Hoffman's less-than-manly demeanor, but she borders on schizophrenic rather than child- like and immature in her sexuality and need for attention and it destroys much of the credibility of the film as you begin to question Hoffman's judgement for picking such a mentally unstable woman as a wife and beg the locals to do away with him swiftly as punishment for removing her from the sanitarium. I cringe to think they might have procreated. That aside, this film is worthy of examining in the context of its time and the events surrounding its release to which it speaks volumes.
on February 13, 2000
Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" is a film that should be seen because of it's incredible realism. It's not as good as his other masterpiece, "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia," but it's still alright. The screenplay and story are sort of weak, because they're not complex enough. "Straw Dogs," however, does succeed because it shows violence and primal viciousness with a realism that few films have captured. Like the best films of Oliver Stone and Luis Bunuel, Peckinpah shows violence with a realism that hits hard and is hard to forget. This is a study of violence and what can lead men to violence, or the primal instinct to protect one's home. The script could have used one more re-write or more thinking. Some strong events take place that never have any important later in the story. Particulalrly one intense scene where the hero's wife is raped in their home while he's away by one of the hoods, we might think this is crucial, but it never has any real importance in the rest of the story. I think Peckinpah was more interested in the surrealism than the story, and in that area he works. This in a sense, is a bad movie, but the violence is so real and effective that it elevates it into an effective and disturbing film. It should be seen for the surrealism above anything else.
on December 3, 1999
Straw Dogs is a controversial film. Some people hated it, others loved it. The fact is that Sam Peckinpah was a controversial man: in his films, violence was a necessary test that every man had to face in order to prove his manhood. Peckinpah was a hard man, and his vision of life and humanity is shown in Straw Dogs, you may agree with him or not, but you will have to accept the basic concept: in the heart of every coward, burns a beast, a straw dog. And Peckinpah says in his movie that when you are caught in a dangerous situation, you change, and you are capable to kill or do anything in order to survive. No one did it better than this filmmaker, maybe Boorman with Deliverance, but Straw Dogs is a cruel testimony of the cruelty that common men are capable to do.Hoffman is terrific, and in the end, when his house and wife are in danger, his whole coward character changes, and he turns into a explosive and brutal murderer. Susan George carries on a difficult part, the scene of the rape is one of the most shocking and complex images of the seventies.In the end, you will understand why the tagline says that in the eyes of every coward burns a straw dog.
on October 13, 1999
this movie plays like a pg-13 film. the violence is just as cutting edge as a butter knife. The acting is about as stale as a 3 week old loaf of bread. but the brilliance of the vision sam P. has is phenomenal enough to recommend a truly over hyped "banned" film.
so what if it isent as you'd expect from reading all the crap on the cover, its mostly building up to the last 40 minutes of the film which is more then worth the wait. Dustin Hoffman I'm sorry to say, sucked real bad. he had no flow for his character. he just sort of kicked back and coasted throughout the movie. very sorry to see that from such a talented actor
all in all this film had its moments. if your as dumb as me and bought the film before seeing it just cause it has a "banned in the uk" stamp on it then your not gonna be very happy. I wont deny its images of violence, other films have done it better but its all the same anyway. a medicore if less then average film. either see it or dont, it wont make a differance. its not an influencial film at all. its just a drawing of the horror of every day life.
on November 18, 1999
I just saw the film, and I thought that it started off great with the bullying techniques of the locals. That was very true to life, since some of us might be in the same sort of situation. HOwever, the final confrontation was pathetic in the least. I really don't care much for peckinpah's action style, and it failed me even more here. The setting was great though, being in the northern part of England i suppose. I guess you should read the book if you enjoy the movie, they're always better, and adaptations are fairly easy and anemic in comparison. The film also dragged and is very aged. The actress did a perfect acting job though. Dustin was NOT the correct actor for the job though. I mean, the timid to kickass change was stupid, and there was no way he could keep 5 men out his house IRL.
on December 23, 2001
I imported this film expecting to be shocked again...and was not that much,but it is still a good old fashioned thriller set on rural Britain which we do not see enough now.The gloomy bleak moorlands seem to add to the sense of foreboding,as the atmosphere of paranoia develops well as Dustin Hoffman and his sexy Wife Susan George are terrorised more and more by nutty locals working on their dream country home.The film is well acted by all,and the rape scary,but it does seem tame compared to some stuff being passed by the BBFC nowadays.The picture and sound are fairly good but do notexpect anything else extra as there are no features at all sadly.Not even a trailer.But it is fairly well priced and a film i would watch again evantually.
on September 11, 1999
I watched this movie after the case talked about how violent and controversial this film was, but what the heck? Peckinpah uses slow motion to express the violence, but it don't make it any more disturbing. I read a review saying it was more overboard then his earlier classic, The Wild Bunch, but, by all means, the bullet in the back of the head overpowers all the violence in this film by far. Good film, but far over-fussed.