This film is one of the best works of Sam Peckinpah this movie deals with the true humanitarian phenomena, human nature for sexual orientation and needs and the most human seduction and temptation. This movie thrills you from the start to the end and the most magnificent aspect of the movie is its ambiguity and confusing nature of climax. "Straw Dogs" is an intense thriller that shows what can happen when you push even the mildest mannered man too far. In here, Dustin Hoffman plays a mathematician who temporarily moves to a house in a rural village in England with his wife, a former resident of the town, played by Susan George. The two withstand incessant needling from several of the townsfolk until George is raped and assaulted and Hoffman is pushed over the edge.
Incidentally, right after watching this film I found a documentary on cable about filmmakers from the late '60s to late '70s and one of the directors profiled was Sam Peckinpah. I had always considered his films to be violent and vaguely shocking, which never surprised me, knowing that he was a hard-living maverick who did things his way - an element that is resplendent in most of his films. A brief mention of Straw Dogs was included in this documentary, where they described it as a "sexist film". There are obvious scenes in the film that could support this criticism, but I think that is overanalyzing the film with a political correctness that is out of place. While the two female characters are both victimized, Susan George also has her moments of empowerment. I may be a female, but I don't consider Peckinpah's tendency to make testosterone-driven films any more sexist than anything that Tarantino puts out, and I'm a big fan of his work as well. It's a dangerous line to draw when one labels a film due to what is *not* included in a film.
What this film does contain is much more stellar - Hoffman is beyond incredible in this film. His character development is amazing to experience. One criticism of the film that I heard from a friend who saw it before me was that it "dragged." I couldn't disagree more. The development of the story until the extremely violent climax is a perfect pace because it made me feel like I was sitting in a dentist chair, knowing that this low boil could explode at any time. After the dust settles, the viewer is left to decide whether Hoffman's character made the right decision, and left to speculate on the ramifications of the choices made. This is by far one of the best films I've seen in recent months and from this director.
on April 21, 2004
This is a really interesting film on many levels. It's not perfect; but, few works of modern art are. Nevertheless, this work stands the test of time. Firstly, one of the most remarkable things about this film is the absolutely Hitchcockian editing, which is remotely primitivistic, but strangely compelling: the editing engenders a peculiar ambience to the film right from the beginning brawl scene in the pub. Then, from the denoument sequence--which begins with the equally primitive church function and runs through to the climax and epilogue--the editing is nothing less than fine art. Secondly, the sets of the pub and the farm house are very convincing and interesting in their own right: there's plenty to look at. Also, the outdoor scenes with the ocean in background and the Cornish village all have the verisimilitude of realism. Thirdly, the soundtrack is not at all bad. Fourthly, the acting is good: of course, Hoffman is nothing less than brilliant; Peter Vaughn is excellent as the burly boorish Englishman; and Susan George isn't bad: she begins weak, but by the middle of the film she's quite okay, and from the denoument mentioned above, she's fine. Also, David Warner as the half-witted cripple is excellent--though not given notice in the credits. Lastly, the story is fairly well formed and possibly plausible--though that's no recommendation for fiction! It is possible in realistic or naturalistic fiction that a university professor might get a grant and take a semester or even a year off to do research; and this professor might want to go to some remote European destination where his wife has ancestral property by the sea, to get away from it all to do his thought-work; and it is possible that this professor might have married the woman out of sexual attraction, fully knowing that she had much less education than himself and was his intellectual inferior. But the plot has a quasi-classical form of characters with flawed personality traits; tension and contentious issues; incident follows upon incident resulting in a shattering climax, followed by an ambivalent coda. What more can one say?
on March 25, 2004
It's not at all hard to see the connection between Peckinpah's two greatest movies: Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch. Both are studies of what it means to be a man, a look at the masculine and sometimes violent male nature. Basically, Straw Dogs is about an extremely timid American intellectual who decides to escape the Vietnam-fueled violence of the USA by moving into the small English town where his wife was raised. However, the man soon realizes that violence is pretty much omnipresent, when the men he hires to fix up his new home begin pushing him and his wife around. I won't give away the ending, but if you know Peckinpah you can probably guess.
of course, most people will probably want to see the movie for its infamous rape scene (which got the film banned in the UK, where it was filmed). Not only is the rape graphic, but the victim actually appears to enjoy it; at least at first. Here I must disagree with the lengthy rant of a prior reviewer when I say that the rape scene is not simply an exercise in mysoginy, but rather helps to show just how immasculinated the main character has become. Throughout the first half of the movie we see his wife slowly flirting with the contractors (at one point even letting them see her topless). This suggests quite obviously that she has become so disgruntled with her husbands lack of backbone that she is actively seducing the very masculine contractors, and the fact that she enjoys the rape is simply the logical extreme of her desire to have a truly "manly" partner. Of course, those who've seen the movie know that eventually she's punished for her covetry of man's aggressive nature.
Overall, I highly recommend this movie. In fact, I'd suggest you get it ASAP, since the Criterion version has been out of print for months now and won't likely be available for much longer. You need a strong stomach to watch it, certainly, and the pace is very deliberate, but those who have patience and put effort into understanding the meaning of the film will be very well rewarded.
on December 28, 2003
"Straw Dogs" is a movie that you are either going to love it or hate it, not a lot of middle ground here. It is the story of a pacifist American math expert who goes to his wife's home town to write a book on math. Whne he arrives he and his wifes are terrorized psycologicly by town bullies. Then he is forced to fight for his home and dignity (and finds he's reather good at violence). Dustin Hoffman plays the reluctant hero well, when he's quiet and meek, we believe it; when he's Rambo incarnated, we believe that too. This is not as violent as, say, "Kill Bill", but it is mostly very suspenseful in a what might happen sort of way. We spend the movie waiting for the conflict at the end. The double rape of Susan George is long and drawn out, very hard watch, very disturbing stuff. It isn't exsessivly gory, but people will swear it is far worse. I gave it 5 stars because it is an important message that we anyone and everyone is capable of violence when pushed too far.
on December 11, 2003
I remember hearing Charlton Heston once remark about Sam Peckinpah that the man had a great career and vision but then sadly "started blowing off heads." Heston may be right in his analysis of Peckinpah's dedication to dramatic violence, as one need look no further than the closing sequences of the seminal "Wild Bunch" to see a death toll of truly shocking proportions. This director's proclivity for bloody violence, usually shown in slow motion to ratchet up the effect, doesn't find as much expression in the 1971 psychological thriller "Straw Dogs." There are a few nasty encounters with a shotgun peppered throughout the final twenty or thirty minutes of this atmospheric picture, but nary a head leaves its shoulders here. Starring Dustin Hoffman, a few years after his stint in "The Graduate," and a fresh-faced Susan George, "Straw Dogs" spends more time setting up a pervasive sense of doom than concerning itself with a huge body count. Actually, this movie's restraint is surprising for a Peckinpah picture. Then again, I haven't seen a lot of Sammy's films, so perhaps this movie falls into a period when the director felt a need for moderation.
David Sumner (Hoffman) and his British wife Amy (George) decide to rent a cottage in England while David works on writing a book. The village the two decide to live in has intimate connections with Amy Sumner, who lived there before meeting and marrying the bookish David. A gang of local thugs, who the Sumners hire to repair the roof of the cottage's barn, well remembers Amy. One of the guys actually had a relationship with this mouthy woman, a link that bodes ill for the amiable but wimpy David. Even worse, the goons have the support of the primary troublemaker in town, a man who even the local constable tiptoes around. The Brits resent David's slightly arrogant manner, his nerdy appearance, and the fact that he goes home with one of their own every night. Disrespect for David takes mild forms at first, usually in the form of funny looks or comments muttered under the breath, but soon the tension between the men and the Sumners escalates into the murder of a pet cat and intimidation on the road leading into the village. David rationalizes away the threats by stating that the problem will simply "go away" if he ignores it. His wife, who seems to know more about how things work in town, urges David to confront the local men. The tension becomes palpable as Sumner must deal not only with the hostility of the local populace but with his wife's strident calls for action as well. It soon gets to the point where Amy questions David's manhood over his meek manners and sycophantic behavior.
Things go from bad to worse when Amy's former boyfriend, who sees David's simpering personality as a sign of weakness, decides to reassert his claim to Amy. In a scene that led to a ban on the film in Great Britain for three decades, the gang lures David away from the house so Amy's former beau can pay her a visit. The subsequent scenes are tough to watch, not necessarily because of their brutality but due to Amy's response to part of the proceedings. Not until another goon steps in does Amy show great resistance to what has happened, leading a viewer to believe that David's wife actually encouraged this sleazy rendezvous. Peckinpah seems to want us to think so, since Amy casts aspersions on David's manhood immediately before this incident. Surprisingly, Amy's misfortune is not the final straw that breaks the dog's back. Instead, a local criminal accidentally kills a local girl affiliated with the same village dregs making David's life miserable. Subsequent events find David providing sanctuary for this criminal as the thugs lay siege to the Sumner cottage. The result: a meek, educated man regresses into an animal capable of incredible violence.
"Straw Dogs" moves at a glacial pace as Peckinpah builds tension through the encounters between the Sumners and the locals. The performances are generally good, with Hoffman standing out as the harassed mathematician who wants to leave well enough alone and finish his work. David Warner, a personal favorite, does a good job as the mentally challenged criminal Henry Niles. Unfortunately, Warner doesn't appear onscreen as much as I would have liked. The thugs are, well, thugs. Susan George, on the other hand, grates as Amy Sumner. I hated her character, a woman who is quick to push David into confrontation, calls into question his manhood when he resists her efforts, and then essentially stands back in the end by letting him face the goons all by himself. Amy's reacquaintance with her former boyfriend creates a sense of ambiguity on the part of the viewer towards Amy Sumner: on one level, you hate her for "enjoying" the crime, but on the other hand you feel for her when things go further than she anticipated. But you feel sorry only to a point, and perhaps that is what Peckinpah intended. I cannot help but think this director created the Amy character in order to express a deep-seated misogyny.
Overall, I liked "Straw Dogs," but I wouldn't watch it again soon. I unfortunately watched the Anchor Bay DVD version, but a Criterion disc has since emerged sporting lots of extras that might shine a spotlight or two on the inner workings of the film. If you want to watch this picture, you should probably get that disc. Obviously, there won't be a Peckinpah commentary on the DVD (he's been dead for years), but Criterion does a good job with its releases. For me, I think I'll stick to "The Wild Bunch" and "The Getaway" in the future.
on November 18, 2003
Dustin Hoffman is a living legend. You can read any of the other excellent reviews here to get a good idea of what the movie is about, so instead I'm going to give you 'the truth as I see it' about why you should see this movie.
Obviously, Dustin Hoffman plays the role of David wonderfully. Susan George does a good job, although it would have been nice for this intended town hottie to have a pretty smile along with her pretty physique. But I guess that's the catch 22 in selecting a British cast, especially from that day and age.
The controversial rape scene in this movie, is almost paralyzingly disturbing. (Yes, paralyzingly...I don't care if it's not a word.) It's disgusting really. It was also very confusing for me, because of the fact that she was saying no, but the viewer actually does get the impression that she doesn't mean no. She kisses her 'rapist' and pulls him closer, and she invites him in in the first place, and then tells him not to leave. A very awkward occurrence. When the second guy rapes her, we understand clearly that she does not want him, but still she seems to have some strange bond with the first guy (apparently and ex-boyfriend or something) as they have a sort of strangely mutually understanding chemistry throughout the movie. This was one of the most disturbing scenes in any movie I've seen recently. It doesn't help that all the while we get up close facial expressions from her, showing a sense of horror and disgust, but at the same time thrilling satisfaction.
Basically, she gives in very easily when there is any sense of punishment as a consequence of resistance. She is trapped in a kind of school-girl mentality, playing childish pranks and teasing the men by showing her breasts and underwear to them. I'm guessing this is related to the way she was treated when she was that age. David, on the other hand, is a controlled, maturing man, trying to focus on his work. He doesn't give in so easily, and although some have said that he plays the role of mouse time and time again until he finally emerges as a 'real man' in the end of the movie, I personally feel that he is not the timid guy everyone thinks him to be, but rather that circumstance does not allow him to show his manliness (for example, when his wife brings in the bowl of milk with the beers). He is more confused than anything because he doesn't believe there is any real reason to confront the hooligans, until the execution of Kitty.
Anyway, like a lot of other people I was very confused by the ending. The implications of David defending his house, his wife, his honor, and his sense of manhood by protecting a man that actually was guilty of murder (albeit accidental), raise a whole other topic of discussion.
The violence, with the exception of the rape scene, is pretty tame according to today's standards, but the psychological horror is in full throttle here. This is a thinker's horror/suspense (not horror in the conventional sense of the word) movie.
The laughter of the crazy hooligan was really annoying to me. I'm sure many people will disagree with my views on the movie, but I think it's important to look at the movie for what it IS, as well as what it means.
I'm definitely glad to have seen this movie, and would highly recommend it, but I don't believe I'll be adding it to my collection. I might see it again one day, but movies this disturbing and confusing aren't usually on my list of favorite flicks to cuddle up to late at night.
on October 23, 2003
Straw Dogs is very loosely based on the book "Siege at Trenchors Farm". It is directed by Sam Pekinpah and it would be an understatement to say that this director is never shy to show a little blood in his movies. When this movie was released in 1971it is was critically acclaimed but also had its fair share of censorship problems. The movie was banned in the UK for almost 30 years afterwards and countless other countries cut it to ribbons before it could be shown on the screen or television.
Basically the story revolves around a quiet, shy, mathematician, David Summers played by Dustin Hoffman and his wife Amy played by Susan George, who move to the English countryside for some rest and relaxation in a house that belonged to her parents. They hire some men from the local village to help restore the house and some of these men have a past connection with Amy. They also display a talent for xenophobia and start to tease David and his wife. Back in the village Major John Scott a local policeman is having problems keeping some of the more rowdy villagers in their place. A simple man called Henry Niles, played by David Warner, is also taking an unhealthy interest in one of the village girls.
Basically the film is one big buildup to a siege at Davids home where he harbors a man who may have murdered someone in the town. He wants to turn him over to the justice officials but some of the town just want a lynch mob instead. David tries to overcome his cowardlines by making a final stand in his own home. The climax which lasts some twenty to thirty minutes is violent, graphic, bloody and shocking.
It is controversial because it contained a very realistic rape scene sequence for its time (1971), but this is not all that makes this film controversial. It also has scenes of child abuse, a few scenes with animal abuse (watch Hoffman smash an apple off the family cat), a blasphemous statement or two and an authority figure who gets the long end of a shotgun barrel. It is also very dogmatic showing a very brutal dumb countryside folk in stark contrast to David intelligent American. Even the local priest is treated as nothing more than a money grabber. All in all, this was enough for most censorship boards to be worried that the film may offend people and make no mistake about it - this is a very offensive film in very many ways.
Pekinpah wants us to be offended. He wants David to be offended. He wants to see how much we and our main protagonist can take before we finally break. Straw Dogs is one big boiling pot of hate and sooner or later it is going to exploded.... and it does.
Straw Dogs is a very original movie that makes a psychological impact. You have never seen anything like it before and you will probably never see anything like it again. Just do not buy into all the prejudice that is on display here. It is only just movie even though it seems all too real at times.
on July 26, 2003
Anyone who has ever wrote on the subject of movie violence has ackowledged Sam Peckinpah, both for this 1969 masterpiece "The Wild Bunch" and his gritty "Straw Dogs". Both are fantastic movies, but I have always loved "Straw Dogs" in particular. Criterion has finally done the movie justice with this superb DVD package, one that any serious movie collector would be proud to own.
This is the classic revenge formula, with a young American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) and his sexy British wife (Susan George) moving to a small town in England and soon find themselves in battle with the drunken and brutish locals. Hoffman's character, as a mild-mannered bookworm, is contrasted by his later rage when he must defend himself and his home. The DVD cites this movie as "a harrowing and masterful investigation of masculinity and the nature of violence", which perfectly describes the tone of the film, as well as the intended message.
The violence in "Straw Dogs" is, while not overly graphic, potent nonetheless. It also has one of the most brutal rape scenes ever done on film. Both in terms of structure and content, "Straw Dogs" was well ahead of it's time. The acting is solid, and the script is beautifully written. The characters range from people we empathize with to people we love to hate. Despite the age (the movie was released in 1971), "Straw Dogs" never seems dated.
The Criterion DVD is packed with quality extras, starying with audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince. Thankfully, it is not overly intellectual, but also doesn't lack insight, and it quite easy to follow. The documentary "Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron" is an interesting 80 minute documentary that has interviews with his friends and family. Although no footage from his movies is shown, and no interviews with the man himself, we get a lot of insight into Peckinpah's life and work. Next is the Behind-the-scenes footage, which is rough at times but still fun to watch. The Dustin Hoffman segment runs for 30 minutes.
Criterion have excelled themselves with "Straw Dogs", and you can expect to spend at least 4 hours with this DVD. The transfer is the best ever released, and the selection of extras makes this worth every penny. Essential.
on June 7, 2003
What works in this film? The superb pacing of the climactic sequence. The long seige of the isolated farmhouse will have your whole body clenched with tension.
What doesn't work? Just about everything else, unfortunately.
People often compare this film to "A Clockwork Orange", another violent film that came out around the same time. But what these films really share, I think, is the yoking together of violence with a highly contrived narrative.
In "A Clockwork Orange", the world of the narrative is populated by two kinds of people: predators and morons. If you aren't one, you're the other. Also, the entire culture is decadent from top to bottom. (Even the victims of Alex's predations are clearly seen to participate in that decadence.) Within this context, Alex's violence is somehow supposed to read as an expression of his "freedom", which the quasi-fascist government wants to "take away" from him.
But the whole game is rigged. Any *realistic* perspective on human behavior would have to see Alex's violence as a direct outgrowth of the corrupt society he lives in -- not at all "free self-expression". Similarly, any *realistic* depiction of a future society would have to populate it with more kinds of people than predators and morons. Instead, Kubrick gives us a society whose one-sidedness makes it pure fantasy, and posits an idea about "freedom" that's also pure fantasy. Does this film tell us one useful thing about violence or freedom in the *real world*? I don't think so. From the beginning, the deck is stacked against the audience.
I have similar thoughts about "Straw Dogs".
First of all, the characters in the film are a compendium of stereotypes: a cold, milquetoast scholar (who is NOT, as some other reviewers here claim, a "pacifist", but on the contrary someone who has refused altogether to "take a stand" on the social turmoil back in the US), a young vixenish wife, and a small town seemingly populated entirely by leering thugs. With THAT combination of elements, the outcome of the narrative is a foregone conclusion. The next hour and a half is just a waiting game.
And it's a very contrived game. As several other reviewers have pointed out, the very existence of the relationship between the two principles has no credibility. Nor does it go anywhere remotely interesting: she complains, he tells her to go away. I suspect that the reason Susan George's character comes across as "complex" is because her behavior isn't consistent from one scene to the next. The most glaring example of this is the aftermath of the rape. Why doesn't she tell her husband what has happened immediately, and get on the next plane back to the States? Well, I guess because the story would stop right there. There's certainly no *human* reason for it.
Indeed, I think this is the real reason the rape scene seems exploitative. The issue isn't just that she seems to "enjoy" it -- though some effort is made to justify this from an emotional standpoint -- it's that since she doesn't mention it to her husband, the rape scene adds nothing to the forward motion of the story. It could simply be cut from the film and the story would unfold just the same. In terms of the plot, the scene is truly "gratuitous", in the broadest sense of the term.
Meanwhile, the husband's simultanous coolness with his wife and deferral of confrontation with the workers just doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't add up to any new insight about the character. Every time Hoffman's character does something mean, goofy, or stupid, it feels like pure plot device -- like the writers are going through the motions of "story development" without having an actual story to develop.
The most interesting contrivance of the film, for me, is the representation of the town hooligans. If you want to point to the film's "fascism" (or latent fascism), it's there. Fascism isn't just about masculinism-as-violence. It's about an absolute and total terror of "the other". It's about paranoia, and expressing that paranoia by violently obliterating the object of your paranoia. And I think the film gives a very vivid representation of male paranoia.
As soon as the husband and wife come into town, they are the subject of scrutiny. Everyone stares at them. The men ogle the wife and smirk at the husband whenever he comes into the pub. The men stare through the windows of the house when they're at work -- and at night, two local highschoolers voyeuristically snoop through the same windows. In this way, "Straw Dogs" is as much a fantasy as "Clockwork Orange" -- but it's a fantasy of male paranoia. "For gods sake, everyone's looking at me! Those big men over there -- they're laughing at my lack of masculinity! And they're after my wife! And I can't trust my wife either!" No one in the universe of "Straw Dogs" has any existence outside their threatening relationship to the husband.
What's "fascist" (or proto-fascist) about the film is that it is more than happy to supply a pack of by-definition-hostile monsters which can then summarily be blown away. Because it creates such one-dimensional attackers, in terms of any "statement about violence", the film is no more sophisticated than, say, "Aliens". (And it's just this kind of paranoid fear of the "marauding other" that fascist (and, in light of recent events, democratic) governments are themselves more than happy to exploit in order to justify aggressive, pre-emptive wars.)
The point is, "Straw Dogs" is composed of a whole set of unlikely, contrived, and / or underdeveloped elements, held together by an emotional glue of male paranoia. Sure, the siege sequence is great. But any other interest it has (at least for me) is not in any coherent statement it makes about violence in the real world, but rather in its vivid -- and, I think, not at all intentional -- representation of pathological male terror.
on June 6, 2003
This film gets excellent treatment in this DVD, despite the quibbles one might have over over-acadamized touches in some of the essay/commentary material, but I suppose that only goes to prove the film's impact and staying power. Lots of interesting extras, well worth the investment, especially for Sam fans.
I have a mixed reaction to the voice-over commentary, much of which is interesting, some of which I find debatable. I take exception to the idea that David is in fact the "heavy", though his passive-aggressive conduct is note-worthy. Peckinpah may indeed have originated this notion, but he was known to be argumentative, and not always the most trustworthy interpreter of his own films (Major Dundee as Moby Dick in the desert?).
I think he may have been trying to down-play the idea of David as home-defending hero, which he knew would be a reaction, and was mainly planting the idea that the character wasn't all that admirable. I mean, if David's the heavy, who's the protagonist?
A quick glance at many of the non-academic reactions to the film's climactic sequence should give a clue as to whom the audience at least wants to root for. Maybe we're meant to be completely repulsed, and not pull for anyone in the final melee, but that's tough to do; I don't believe the case can be made that the local toughs are the good guys, anyway.
David Sumner is definitely the film's protagonist, and rather like Alex in the other infamously violent film released the same year, A Clockwork Orange, he attracts audience sympathy despite his flaws. The director needs for the audience to identify with someone in his story, while setting them up to question what that identification means.
Also, the voice-over guy is locked into a woman-good, man-bad mindset, at least in regard to the Amy and David couple. According to the commentator, David is completely cold, uncaring, vicious, selfish, and other bad stuff, while Amy is his noble, all-virtuous victim. Not only does this contradict the usual Peckinpah-as-misogynist stuff available in the "Man of Iron" documentary, but it goes against the director's running theme of violence and complicity. He completely ignores Amy's role in pushing David into a more macho, violent stance - he only seems interested in finding ways to denigrate the David character, and you can hear his argument running out of steam toward the end.
As for "Man of Iron" - I had seen it broadcast some years ago, and recall being somewhat disappointed, though I appreciated it more on seeing it again. It is rather rambling, with some I think dubious interiew subjects - the screenwriter Alan Sharp for instance, who apparently only worked on one picture with Peckinpah, which he seemed ashamed of, and otherwise didn't seem to really know the man or think too much of his work. The documentary tends to go off on tangents, like the obligatory woman-hating and brutal-behaviour accusations, which go mostly unsupported here. On the other hand, Kristofferson, Coburn, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones and others offer lots of interesting incidents and insights, and make it overall a valuable, touching look at the maverick filmmaker.