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Straw Dogs
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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

A riveting and eerily plausible thriller

9/10
Author: Delmare from New York City
29 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

With the help of a research grant, timid astrophysicist David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) travels to England with British wife Amy (Susan George.) Hoping to escape the violent protests of Vietnam-era America, the two settle down in Amy's hometown, a tiny village in Cornwall, where less-than-friendly locals take it upon themselves to make their lives a living hell.

There's a list a mile long of all the things that work in this movie, but the single biggest contributor is Peckinpah's refusal to cut corners.

Many a movie that bills itself on the basis of its climax forgets that crescendos are a privilege and not a right; that they must be earned, that they must be paid for. Do the Right Thing, great though it is, never fully invests itself in the question of why this particular hot day is the catalyst for disaster when so many other hot days have come and gone without incident. While the climax might conceivably develop from the events depicted, an abundance of unanswered questions leaves it feeling more like writer's convenience, and less like natural construction.

With Straw Dogs, the outcome is both possible and inevitable, and Peckinpah has us convinced of that fact within the first ten minutes of the running time. In ten minutes flat, we have the perfect storm of troubled marriages, the Sumners just passionate enough to excite the ire of a former lover, and just defunct enough to preclude the kind of unity they need to stand strong. We have a town in shambles, where the lawman is impotent and the closest approximation to a moral authority is an ill-tempered drunkard whose son is a rapist. We have a band of hooligan locals, tied to the married couple by a rubber stamp construction job (a garage that's never finished) and led by Amy's one-time Charlie Venner (Del Henney) who get their kicks out of exploiting David's apparent lack of virility and drive a wedge into the already fraught relationship in the hopes of getting Amy alone. We have unanimous contempt for the American outsider, and shame for the English woman who lowered herself by marrying him. We have a town madman whom the entire village is clamoring to kill, along with whoever else gets in their way, and last but not least, we have the ubiquitous glass of whiskey to push people past the breaking point when every other aggravating factor fails, all this rendered naturally and believably in the first ten minutes of the film. The rest of the movie is one big bi-product, the story flowing from A to B to C, each plot point a direct consequence of the one preceding it, everything building steadily and irrevocably to one of the most horrific and well-earned climaxes in cinematic history.

Hoffman's performance as the high-strung astrophysicist edging closer and closer to the brink is one of the best of his career, if only because of its subtlety, its slow transformation. Susan George is, in some ways, even stronger than Hoffman. A boiling pot of rage and frustration, her character is truly heart wrenching, especially in the latter half of the film, as she struggles to rise above her morbid abuse. Best of all, the two actors behave as if they were actually married to each other, assuming all the tricks and gestures and mannerisms of that extreme, almost destructive level of physical comfort, something we rarely see in Hollywood matrimony.

Straw Dogs is a spectacular film and a terrific western, adhering, as it does, to nearly ever convention of the genre. In the final analysis, David Sumner is just another gunman goaded into a showdown. The Scottish bagpipes at the apex of the movie, not unlike the horns that start playing whenever the gunslinger steps out of the saloon, drone away in haunting irony as David moves across the room, trance-like, his latent savagery shaking its way into wakefulness. With expert care, with every note true, Peckinpah frees the western from its moorings in 19th-century America and transports it to England, betraying both the timelessness of violence and – unfortunately – its international character.

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14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A courageous performance by Hoffman in a grimy, unseemly macho fantasy...

5/10
Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
1 March 2008

A passive American mathematician and his British wife move to a farm in rural England and are terrorized in their home by vicious locals. Gordon M. Williams' book "The Siege of Trencher's Farm" becomes a standardized Hollywood bout between Good and Evil, with Good having to stoop to the gutters in order to survive--which is really what life is all about, isn't it? Sam Peckinpah directed (and co-penned the script), and he delights in slavering savagery and carnality, with a motley gang of villainous goons taunting our hero, portrayed by actors who have no other character motivation to play beyond being villainous goons. It gets you worked up, all right, to the point of exasperation and exhaustion. Dustin Hoffman manages to create a tangible character, and his repressed anxiety and impotent anger is both frustrating and thought-provoking. However, there isn't much provocative about Peckinpah's staging of this violent tale; he's all about externals--how righteous anger destroys our common decency--and he can't even manage this without pushing the same old buttons, complete with a rape scene in which the victim, Susan George, does everything but smoke a cigarette afterward. The filmmaker has only one card to play, the tearing down of morality in the modern man, and he stretches this out so far his plot-points become battering rams. ** from ****

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A Strong Film That Touches On Many Social Subjects...

9/10
Author: EVOL666 from St. John's Abortion Clinic
15 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

STRAW DOGS is not quite what I expected judging from the few reviews I read prior to my viewing. it seems that the strong violence and the much talked about rape scene are the focal points of the film in many viewer's minds. Personally, though these elements are extremely important to the narrative of the film - they are by no means what the film is all about...

David and Amy Sumner move from the States to rural England to relax while David writes a text book. David is a mathematician and Amy is his hot young British wife who seems strangely incompatible with him. It's never really mentioned how the couple met or got together, but right off the top it's obvious that they're a mis-matched duo. The town that the Sumners move back to is a place that Amy lived in when she was younger, and she knows many of the locals. David is viewed as an outsider, and his nerdy countenance and weak physical appearance make him a target for the local toughs. The "teasing" begins innocently enough - but when it goes un-checked - escalates in it's intensity. Things come to a climax when Amy (unbeknownst to David) is raped by one of the locals, with whom she had had a relationship with several years past - and when David refuses to release a local man accused of child-molestation to the local thugs after David takes him in following an auto-accident. When David refuses to let the group make-off with the injured man, they attack his home in an effort to gain entry - but David has finally snapped and won't give up the shelter of his home so easily...

With a few scenes of explosive violence and a rape scene that many unaccustomed to viewing such material will undoubtedly find objectionable, I supposed it's easy to lose track of the real "story" behind STRAW DOGS. This film is full of social commentary and personal relationship issues. For David, it begins as a fish-out-of-water story as he tries to make peace with the locals who obviously view him with complete disdain. For Amy, it's a coming home tale that has initially bittersweet overtones that turn just plain bitter by the film's conclusion. There is an underlying theme of how much abuse will someone take before they flake-out and fight back - even if the odds seem insurmountable. There's also a strong current that is felt from the opening of the film in regards to how men and women in general handle relationships and how they view each other and their respective "roles". Amy seems to want a "tougher" man than her husband - but when she gets it, she finds that it's not necessarily as fulfilling as she would have imagined, and when her own husband finally becomes the "tough-guy" - I think this revelation is forced upon her doubly. There really are a ton of concepts explored in the film and I've barely scratched the surface. As to the film itself - it begins slow and ends with a bang. Those that need non-stop action will not dig this one. Also, those that choose to view this film strictly for "shock-value" based on other reviews will more than likely be disappointed as well. The violence and rape were not as strong as I expected - but they're pretty "rough" for 1971. The performances are solid and believable and the storyline is definitely interesting and certainly holds much to reflect on. Overall, I enjoyed STRAW DOGS quite a bit and would recommend it to more open-minded thriller/drama fans...9/10

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Powerful stuff

8/10
Author: Neil Welch from United Kingdom
20 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw Straw Dogs on its original cinema for two reasons: one, it was a movie which was in danger of disappearing in a cloud of controversy and, two, I fancied the pants off Susan George, and I'd heard that she got her kit off in this one.

What I found was a very interesting story, powerfully told. Straw Dogs was so controversial, and was seen as so toxic, that it virtually disappeared as soon as its first run at the cinema was over. It was perceived as too dangerous for a video release (in the UK, at least) and has only fairly recently emerged on DVD.

So what was all the fuss about? Sam Peckinpah's final film tells the story of a fairly unlikely marriage between fusty American academic David (Dustin Hoffman) and feisty young English thing Amy (Susan George). They take a cottage in the rural English countryside, in the general area of Amy's home patch: a peaceful bolt hole for David to carry out research. Amy, meanwhile, is picking up where she left off by teasing the local lads - this is clearly a game she is accustomed to playing, although it is clearly also partly out of frustration at David's lack of attention towards her. The local lads react to this, and bait David generally (he is mild, he is married to this teaser, he is an outsider), but David backs away from confrontation. Amy's antics have the inevitable result when she is forced into sex by old flame Charlie (Del Henney) and Norman (Ken Hutchison): this appears to be rape, but possibly it isn't: perhaps it is simply the sort of game Amy likes to play. Then they are approached for sanctuary by local mentally handicapped paedophile Henry (David Warner) who is being pursued by a local mob intent on applying lynch law, following Henry strangling local slapper Janice (under provocation). At this point David decides to take a stand, and the final section of the film deals with the mob laying siege to the cottage.

Peckinpah went out with a bang. Full of morally compromised characters, this film ultimately addresses issues which are fairly black and white, and does so with a sense of gradually developing menace, leading to an intense and bloody climactic confrontation.

Dustin Hoffman is excellent as the gentle David, provoked once too often, and the immature Amy is a role which might have been written for Susan George at this stage in her career.

It is a strong and thought provoking movie - it is still doing that particular job with me nearly 40 years later.

And, yes, Susan George does get her kit off. So that was a good result, too.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

My vote for best thriller ever made [contains spoiler]

10/10
Author: shengyang
21 February 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is my favourite Peckinpah film, and it is possibly the best thriller ever made, period. The tension (sexual and violent) is built up and sustained through incredible editing (eg. the inter-cutting of flashbacks of Susan George's rape into the village Christmas party skits). This movie is not just a must see, it is a must own.

[Spoiler ahead] One of the funniest and darkest "hero rides off" movie endings I've seen: Hoffmann drives off triumphantly into the night with the retarded child-molester he is protecting, leaving his wife at home with a house full of dead bodies.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

just because its old doesn't make it a classic

2/10
Author: onpunch-adl from United States
11 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Minor Spoilers. I made a mistake and watched the remake first. I thought it was pretty good so i looked up the reviews for the original and they were mostly 8- 10s. So i got interested,I gotta say the remake is way better. The couple is unconvincing, they are more like two strangers living together. The women seems more in love with her rapists then her husband and she doesn't really care that hes being attacked and barely tries to help him. The first hour feels like its from a separate movie then the last hour. The fact that this movie was banned for a while astounds me. Sure it might've offended some people back in '71, but its far from gruesome. Skip this and watch the remake. Like i said just because its old doesn't make it a classic.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

An unfortunate collection of caricatures

4/10
Author: jinsilver from Fresno, CA
12 May 2015

A collection of caricatures go through the motions of a terrible script, phoning in even the most dramatic moments, spoiling an exciting premise. I'm not even referring to the Cornwall yokels here, who are at least amusing; it's the two main characters who end up being the greatest let-downs, along with the simplistic morality play of a story itself. To its credit, the film is gorgeous, full of beautiful countryside and rustic town, but that can hardly carry two hours of melodrama.

Dustin Hoffman plays a perfect effete professor stereotype, a self-centered coward smugly certain of his superiority, and due to that, the near-instant switch into unbeatable gladiator makes little sense. An explosion of rage and dishing out a few good hits before going down, perhaps. This is no Falling Down, where someone on the verge of cracking for a long time finally does; this is someone who becomes savage against his nature, and somehow conjures the skill to kill every enemy. A male superhero fantasy.

Susan George is competent as a petulant brat, always needing attention, pushy yet unwilling to take personal action; the nature of their relationship or why they left is never explained, but it's hinted to be teacher/student. Unfortunately, her character never really goes anywhere, and her acting never gives any nuance to even the charged, violent scene preceding the rape. The only time she seems convincing is in the bedroom scene following David's return.

The bizarre direction of the rape, that quiet tenderness suggesting that the first wasn't really rape after all, that deep down an attention-seeking girl is really looking for masculine violence from her paramour that she isn't getting from her husband, really confuses me... almost a rape fantasy. And then the whole purpose of the rape is just to create some extra justification for killing the louts, along with audience titillation. In 1971, it may have been shocking to put an on-screen rape in a mainstream movie, kicking off Last House on the Left and a whole series of rape-revenge movies, but now it just looks exploitative and badly done.

Rounding out the cast, there's a few louts, an affable retired army major, a teen temptress, her drunken old father, and a retarded pedophile. Their names are hardly important, because all they do is fill a role.

Beyond that, no action in the film looks real. The hits don't look real. The deaths don't look real. The rape doesn't look real.

Overall, there's nothing in here but a generic western, uprooted and moved to Scotland, and any nuance the story could have had is missing.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Horror Film Disguised as a Thriller

8/10
Author: gavin6942 from United States
3 December 2012

A young American (Dustin Hoffman) and his English wife (Susan George) come to rural England and face increasingly vicious local harassment. Also, David Warner shows up with his long 1970s hair and a limp to be a menace.

People like to talk about the violence of this film, and say that what was strong then and what is strong now is different. Indeed, I do think the violence is tame by today's standards, but I think it was possibly even tame by those standards. It is hardly a massacre. And is it not awkward seeing Hoffman as a fighter? I mean, really. Great actor, yes, but not a fighter.

The sexual assault scene, on the other hand, is just as raw now as it was then. While not as graphic as Peckinpah intended, it is pretty brutal. Other films have been nasty -- "Deliverance" and "I Spit on Your Grave", or more recently "Derailed -- but this certainly made a mark. Besides one or two other films (notably "The Virgin Spring") this had to be one of the earliest showings of such a thing and must have shocked viewers.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Extremely Influential

9/10
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
23 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The old Hollywood production code required that justice be rewarded and evil punished, the last genre to hold onto this concept was the Western (and prime time television). Violence was always highly selective; you might see the good guy wounded once in a while, but it was almost always the "deserving" bad guys who got killed. This reflected the U.S. mainstream view of violence and of pre-Viet Nam foreign affairs. What made 'The Wild Bunch' revolutionary was that Peckinpah made violence universal. Everyone stood in the same shade of gray/neutral moral middle-ground and everyone; men, women, children, dogs, and chickens were shot up in the final scene, regardless of their guilt or innocence.

Then along comes 'Straw Dogs' and Peckinpah makes another violent anti-violence film where the moral distinctions between victims (be they physical or psychological victims) is again ambiguous.

The film opens with a processional of Amy and 'Wannabee Amy' (Sally Thomsett in a dead-on Lolita performance) turning all the male heads as they walk through the village. And this introduces us to the parallel stories that will be taking place during the film. Amy will spend much of her time amusing herself by provocatively arousing a group of young men in the village. Thomsett's character will spend her time flirting with Amy's husband David (the Dustin Hoffman character) and with the village idiot (David Warner doing Lon Chaney's Lennie from 'Mice and Men'). Just one year removed from playing an innocent child in 'The Railway Children' Thomsett is perfect as every father's nightmare of a post-pubescent boy-crazy daughter.

Peckinpah's theme is about personal responsibility (and irresponsibility) and how actions have consequences. Amy and 'Wannabee Amy' will play with fire during the first part of the movie. Amy will tease the young men of the village, will playfully run them off the road with her car, and will fearlessly challenge them about killing her cat. She will even become a willing participant in what starts out as forced sex with her former boyfriend. But Amy will suffer the consequences when this is followed up by an actual rape. 'Wannabee Amy' will seduce the village idiot and suffer the consequences when he panics and accidentally kills her.

At this point Amy wants no more consequences from her irresponsibility. But David stubbornly insists on protecting the village idiot until the authorities arrive. When the magistrate arrives and is killed by the five goons outside their house, David pragmatically concludes that the goons cannot let Amy and him live, even if they turn over the village idiot. Once cornered David must fight and reverts to primitive animalistic behavior.

I think Peckinpah is telling us that we still have an innate instinctual capacity for violence and instinctual responses to violence, that women are still excited and attracted by these displays and may consciously or subconsciously incite them. Call it part of the courtship ritual, it probably has an evolutionary function.

Starting with parallel story lines that occasionally touch each other before finally coming together, Peckinpah structures the film so that a third storyline then takes over. After Amy's need for excitement has set the events in motion and they have escalated beyond her control, she withdraws and refuses to deal with anything anymore. Her active role is then taken up by the formerly passive David, who until this point has been dodging confrontation. First he is pushed to a point where he stubbornly refuses to back down any further, and finally he is cornered with has no place to back down even if inclined to do so.

I was very impressed with the work of the Production Designer on this film. The countryside, village, and house have a very uniform visual style that fits the storyline of a foreigner dealing with an insular community.

I really have no problems with this film. I found it one of those few films that are riveting from the very start. During my initial viewing I recall hating the scene where David and Amy are arguing while sitting on opposite sides of the fireplace. I was mentally protesting 180- degree rule violations and the disorienting cuts. But by the end I realized that this visually reinforced the unraveling of their relationship; it is a good example of why movie-making conventions can be broken if breaking them advances the story line.

'Straw Dogs' takes place in a Peckinpah world where men must be willing to do life's dirty work and anything else if they wish to survive, and where actions have consequences. This is a world where love has limits and might even be impossible.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

beauty in the eyes of the revolver

10/10
Author: nathalie tomaszewski from Seattle
18 January 2004

A typical plot that used to define men's basic instinct and values: the protection of family and honor. Yet Sam Peckinpah's little tale holds many folds and the explosion of violence splashes like fresh blood on the characters, alive or not, and us, the innocent viewers. And why us? because we followed, anxious and nervous, the plot as naively as the main character played by Hoffman; we refused to acknowledge situations opting instead for blind optimism ,and we watched in silent trepidation at the first blow ringing like a death toll, the uproar echoing the bell at a boxing game.

An amazing hommage to how futile and traumatic violence can be, and at times so beautiful the fighters simply dance.

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