on August 17, 2013
I saw the movie years ago and thought it was groundbreaking. The violence is intense but I found myself totally engrossed in the turbulence. This Criterion DVD is the best possible print available and includes many extra features. Dustin Hoffman and the rest of the cast are truly amazing. Buy this DVD if you like the film you can't go wrong.
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 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 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.
on April 2, 2003
In 1971 Sam Peckinpah's controversial STRAW DOGS was censored by the British Board of Film Classification. The cuts made it even more provocative than Peckinpah intended. Consequently, Straw Dogs was labeled by the media as an obscene, misogynistic piece of filmmaking. Regarding the uncut American version, even the esteemed Pauline Kael said it's "the first American film that is a fascist work of art."
"Straw Dogs" stands as one of Peckinpah's best, and a reminder of the ongoing struggle between an artist's freedom and suppression by the powers that be. But more than that, it's a brilliant and harrowing exploration of man's primitive animal nature and its implied, inherent violence.
The transfer's clean and sharp. Extras include an 80 minute look at Peckinpah's films and a new interview with Susan George, who talks about her daring, controversial performance of a woman who for a few brief moments seemed to enjoy being raped.
What does "Straw Dogs" mean? Is it from the saying: Behind every coward's eyes burn straw dogs? If so, what does that mean? What are "straw dogs"?
Another thing. Recently (of this writingt) Dustin Hoffman has made a point of speaking out about certain military operations to free brutalized, oppressed people. Personally, I'd rather not know what an actor thinks and feels about politics. However, in "Straw Dogs" Hoffman shows what it takes to fight evil aggression. His screen performance will outlive his words.
on July 2, 2003
Dustin Hoffman brilliantly plays a mathematics professor on grant who relocates to the "home village" of his English wife to research in "peace and quiet." The set up is simple and Sam Peckinpah wastes not one frame, he immediately ratchets up the tension with the ominous bear trap and the ex boyfriend in the first scene. The village, of course, is a creepy little English backwater stocked full of all the standard issue dregs of society; money grubbing vicar, town drunk & his hostile brood, a "touched" sexual predator, oblivious mayor, and alcoholism, all play back drop to the story. This film is entertaining, despite what other reviews say - but it's not pretty, and the characters are not very likeable. I did find the exterminator character's constant laughter grating and oddly dated movie technique (a la baby crying) to make you uncomfortable. Small quibble - this movie in pure genius...and also has one of the best movie promo posters I've ever seen. Enjoy!
on November 21, 2011
The DVD stops about 3/4 of the way through and then goes to the main menu. If you then choose "scenes" to return to where you were it continues to do the same thing. Worst video I have purchased from Amazon.