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Upon moving to Britain to get away from American violence, astrophysicist David Sumner and his wife Amy are bullied and taken advantage of by the locals hired to do construction. When David finally takes a stand it escalates quickly into a bloody battle as the locals assault his house. Written by
Andrew Hyatt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sam Pecknpah followed his extremely violent and critically acclaimed 'The Wild Bunch' with the even more violent 'Straw Dogs', which didn't sit as well with the critics; in fact, 'Straw Dogs' was shocking enough to be banned in the UK where it was filmed, although in the US it was released with an X rating. Critics attacked it as being overtly violent and sexual, and entirely missed the message Peckinpah was making. Three and a half decades later, though, it's easier to appreciate 'Straw Dogs' for the groundbreaking creation that it was, and its influence can clearly be seen in the works of such contemporary directors as David Fincher, David Lynch and Todd Solondz, among others.
With hindsight, it's hard to miss the fact that the sexual and violent content of 'Straw Dogs' isn't a whole lot more shocking than that of Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange', released that very same month. 'A Clockwork Orange' also created its own share of controversy, of course; yet somehow it was more rapidly recognized as the masterpiece it is by critics than 'Straw Dogs'. In part, I think that's due to the fact that while 'A Clockwork Orange' is an ultra-violent surreal fantasy from its very beginning, 'Straw Dogs' seems entirely innocent at first, like a very realistic and light-hearted drama, and the violence builds gradually throughout the film. That sense of realism, which 'A Clockwork Orange' never pretends to, makes 'Straw Dogs' much more difficult to take as an analogy; it cries out to be taken at face value, which makes it much more difficult to swallow.
Dustin Hoffman was never an actor to fear controversy, and 'Straw Dogs' catches him right at the peak of his best years as an actor, after 'The Graduate', 'Midnight Cowboy' and 'Little Big Man', and before 'Lenny', 'Papillon' and 'All The President's Men'. His performance is as amazing as in any of these, and again Hoffman proves his rare range, as well as his sensitivity; his performance carries the film to true excellence, and perhaps that's the other reason that the film was a bit more difficult to take than 'A Clockwork Orange' to take nothing away from the wonderful Malcolm McDowell, what 'A Clockwork Orange' simply didn't have was a protagonist for the viewer to identify with, and therefore, like I stated before, it was easier to take as an analogy, and Alex functioned more as a symbolic and iconic character than as a real human being. David Sumner, on the other hand, is a remarkably realistic and convincing character, and one that is very easy to relate to, which makes the change that comes over him towards the end of the film all the more shocking. Again, it is that building up of tension that makes 'Straw Dogs' such a powerful experience.
'Straw Dogs' is a film that creates controversy and disagreements, and so it should. It's easy to create controversy with sex and violence; but many years later that initial shock fades, and the real test is whether or not the film stands the trial of time and still manages to shock and engross. Like 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Straw Dogs' stands that test. Love it or hate it, it's hard to deny that it's an important and influential film, and it's essential viewing for any film lover.
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