Straw Dogs (1971)
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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 plan to seek out the newly released Criterion edition in my quest to find out as much about this film as I can.
" I don't know how much movies should entertain. To me I'm always interested in movies that scar. The thing I love about JAWS is the fact that I've never gone swimming in the ocean again." -David Fincher
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.
An interesting example of a vigilante film before the subgenre became fashionable. Films before had dealt with the theme of revenge but rarely as brutal or primal as in Straw Dogs(1971). Predates Death Wish(1974) by three years. The uncredited inspiration for Death Wish(1974) and others of its kind. Both films include Meek liberal men who explode with violent anger in different ways. Shows revenge and the consequences behind the act of revenge in a realistic dimension.
Straw Dogs(1971) marked the first film Sam Peckinpah did which wasn't a Western. The film's direction creates a powerful piece of cinema with a strong European sensibility. Its a shame Sam Peckinpah never did more European Thrillers after SD. One film which mixes the American style of Peckinpah's Westerns with the European touch of Straw Dogs(1971) is Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia(1974). At times the movie looks as if it could have been done by Hammer Studios. An indication that the late filmmaker could succeed outside of the Western genre.
Good at showing that any person(even peaceful natured)can be capable of violent action at any given moment. The interactions between David Sumner and the Village Reverand is filled with subtle hostility. Represents the conflict between religion and science which is wittily enforced in the dialogue between the two. The locations of Cornwall becomes an important part of the film's emotion. Intense atmosphere is what gives the film a tinge of horror. Straw Dogs(1971) is in a couple of ways a British take on the Deliverance story.
There seems to be something autobiographical within the frames of the story. Deals with the idea of Man's violent rites of passage that Sam Peckinpah was only too familiar with. David Sumner symbolizes the private inner self of Sam Peckinpah's persona. The intense relationship between David and Amy Sumner was based on the director's experiences with marriage and relations with women. His direction of the actors is masterful. Has to be one of the director's most personal(perhaps his most personal)film of his directorial resume.
A notorious sequence from Straw Dogs(1971) is the infamous rape of Amy Sumner which plays a tricky balance between the abhorrent and the erotic without spilling over to either side. I can imagine the many people that were taken aback by this scene especially during the first rape when it turns into a love scene. Without the dark humor that was present in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange(1971). Excellently edited scene with some powerful intercutting. Not an overly graphic scene but more psychological with the camera's focus on Susan George's face. Its the psychological abasement and reaction of Amy that is the true disturber of the senses.
There is an interesting sub plot between Henry Niles and Janice Hedden that is inspired by OF MICE AND MEN. The director was heavily influenced by the works of John Steinbeck, none so evident as in the characterizations of Henry Niles. Henry Niles is absolutely patterened after the strong but slow witted Lenny from OF MICE & MEN. David Warner pulls off an fantastic performance in a complex role. The scene in the church stable is reminiscent of Lenny and his bosses wife meeting in a barn during OF MICE & MEN. Henry Niles is alot like the misunderstood alleged witch of Don't Torture a Duckling(1972).
From the very beginning a confrontation between the house workers and David Sumner becomes inevitable. There is some major tension that grows to a boiling point until the hot pot explodes during the climax. The actors do a convincing job in displaying tension with their emotions. When the confrontation finally does happen everything becomes chaotic and violent. This part of the film may have influneced Wes Craven to a certain extent when he did Last House on the Left(1971). By the climax of Straw Dogs, David Sumner despises the house workers so much that he uses Henry Niles as an excuse to strike back at them.
Where the bloodbath at the film's finale reaches a fever pitch is when reason turns to bloodlust. When the confrontation began there were reasons for each group but as it progressed the two parties become more interested in killing each other. I find it funny that the two groups become less concern in finding Janice Hedden and more concern in fighting to the death. It just shows that protecting one's land or property is the most important thing to a man. David Sumner and the house workers battle each other in a manner similar to the landowners of the Middle Ages. Sombre use of slow motion effects and editing techniques turns the climax into a nerve twister.
Dustin Hoffman is very good in the role of the timid turned violent David Sumner. Susan George in her role projects both vurnability and eroticism. The film's climax would be rehased for the house attack in The Osterman Weekend(1983). When Sam Peckinpah also worked as a writer in his films the results were usually brilliant. This is the case with Straw Dogs(1971). Straw Dogs(1971) is an impressive film of an era when filmmakers were not afraid to take chances with risky subject matters.
Allegedly banned in the U.K. to this very day, "Straw Dogs" came to me out of nowhere. I had heard good things about it, but never really caught onto it, until one day when I was at a video store browsing around for no apparent reason. I had absolutely no money and wasn't planning to buy anything when all of the sudden, I saw it . . .
WIDESCREEN - UNCENSORED,RESTORED - COLLECTOR'S EDITION
I had never even seen the movie and I wanted to buy it! I mean, hey, it WAS the last one left.
So I took a huge risk, got a loan from my mother, used all the two-dollar bills I had been saving to pay her back, and bought it right out. And then, I viewed it later on that night, praying I hadn't wasted my time. AND: I was floored. The film literally knocked me out, kept me peeled to the screen at every instant, left me disturbed for days to come. I mean, let me tell you, go out and rent this, buy this, anything, just see it! Although it is moderately paced, the film remains intense the whole way, and takes an unexpected turn into extreme violence towards the legendary ending, a showdown worthy of multiple viewings (watch "Fear" to see an amateur retread).
So it goes like this: Hoffman plays a wimpy mathematician who flees with his wife George to the peaceful countryside (to get away from violence!), only to be ravaged by the locals who just wanna start trouble. It is the ultimate test of manhood, showing us (in a somewhat biased manner) that it takes aggression to get what you want and keep what you have. You'll be amazed at Hoffman's "transformation" (we all know deep down that EVERYONE'S got it in them somewhere), but it makes you think, especially when Hoffman has to defend his home from several large armed men WITHOUT USING ANY WEAPONS, only his brains and some household appliances.
I'm surprised that this is such a forgotten film. There aren't enough people who can actually claim to have seen this picture or even know what it's about. I find that hard to ingest, being that it was one of the most controversial films of its day. But it IS very brutal, especially the once trimmed rape scene, restored on my copy, a scene that I find to be the most intense. However, today's moviegoers may not agree.
So see "Straw Dogs," the movie that single-handedly turned me into a Peckinpah fan. The editing is Oscar-worthy, the acting is magnificent, the situations are well thought out, and the characters are fleshed to the bone (sometimes literally). I promise you won't leave disappointed.
#5 on my Top 200 List, **** outta **** on my personal scale.
David is very much an introvert. The job of a mathematician requires hours of quiet time to think and ponder, something he just can't get. His wife Amy is immature and disruptive, though we can't blame her; David has little time for her amidst all his mathematical calculations, and he treats her cries for attention as one treats a child, at one point telling her "you act like you're fourteen years old." As days go by, David and Susan face increasing levels of harassment from the local residents, most particularly the four young local men who have been employed to build their garage. The harassment begins quite modestly, with David the outsider becoming the butt of local jokes, whether it be because he has trouble trying to start his battered old car, or because he tries to enter it from the wrong side. On his first visit to the pub, David requests "any American brand of cigarettes," an unwise move if you wish to make friends amongst the fiercely patriotic country folk of Cornwall. He would later buy the stone-faced men around him a round of drinks, but doesn't sit around to enjoy it with them.
After a somewhat leisurely opening thirty minutes, we suddenly recognise that things are getting serious when Susan's cat goes missing. This event in itself is not particularly ominous, since the cat goes missing all the time. However, when David pulls on the light switch in his bedroom closet, he is understandably startled to find his strangled cat dangling limp from the cord. Despite his insistence that "it could have been anyone passing by," we already know who murdered "kitty." David vows to confront the four local men, endeavouring to "catch them off guard" and force a confession. However, given David's typically shy and pacifistic nature, he subsequently loses his courage and backs down.
David's "confrontation" invariably ends in his accepting an invitation to go hunting the following day. Whilst David takes pot-shots at the passing birds (with little result), one of the men, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), a former lover of Susan, drops into the house. Susan demands that he leave, but he casually casts aside her pleas and starts to kiss her. Susan resists at first but, shockingly, at times she appears to return his affection. Nevertheless, the rape scene is difficult to watch, and Peckinpah masterfully intercuts the quickly-cut scene with images of David standing obliviously amongst the scrub, still actively trying to shoot down ducks. Another of the men arrives at the home, and a second uncomfortable rape scene follows. Once it is all over, we find David finally shooting down a bird, only to find that it isn't a duck. Disappointed that he has made such a careless mistake, he drops the dead bird into a bush, no doubt assured that the worst thing to happen today was his inability to hunt. When he next sees Susan, she says nothing to him; and she never will.
When a mildly mentally-challenged local man, Henry Niles (David Warner, who was uncredited due to insurance complications), also a convicted child molester, accidentally murders a teenage girl who made advances towards him, the drunken father of the girl wants his retribution. Niles, stumbling through a heavy onset of fog, finds his way in front of David and Susan's car, and they bring him to their home until medical assistance can arrive. However, the murdered girl's father and the four men who had been building David's garage turn up outside his house with only one thing on their minds: getting inside that house and getting to Niles. The previously mild-mannered David, on the other hand, has alternative plans for these men.
The title of the film is drawn from a common translation of 'Tao Te Ching', an ancient Chinese philosophical treatise: "Heaven and Earth are impartial; they see the ten thousands things as straw dogs. The wise are impartial; they see the people as straw dogs." Many ancient Chinese ceremonies included the use of grass-woven dogs, which were revered and respected during the ritual, but afterward discarded and burnt. Perhaps the title symbolises David's underlying attitudes towards human lives as the men begin to invade his home we are all straw dogs, made only to be destroyed.
Whilst David's moral reasoning for defending his home is to prevent Niles' bloody death at the hands of the mob, he appears to take grim satisfaction in murdering the intruders himself. Once all are good and dead (the most nasty mode of death involving a fully-sprung bear trap), David stands aside, a peculiar grin evident upon his face, exclaiming to himself, "Jesus. I got 'em all!" He is not disgusted or sickened by the deaths he has forced himself to orchestrate he is actually satisfied, invigorated. He is proud of his achievements.
What could have possibly precipitated this sudden change in David's character? From a logical, mild-mannered, peaceful man arose a methodical killing machine, who shockingly takes pleasure in his multiple kills. Then we suddenly realise. These qualities were within David the entire time. Indeed, they subconsciously inhabit the hearts of all men. He just required the horrific circumstances of that night to bring about the alarming conversion.
The main centerpiece of the film sticks this in and doesn't let up, and one wonders why logic never seems to intervene. Perhaps because this is more of a kind of treatise on behavior than any kind of typical revenge story. This centerpiece- where Susan George's character gets raped by an ex-boyfriend, and then gang raped by the men working on her and her husband David's (Hoffman) garage- acts as the first tip of the scale in what becomes un-hinged for them in this little British community. It's at first, of course, a real sexual crime as he forces himself upon her. But then, apparently, she succumbs to it and becomes lusting towards the man who once was close to her. But then the other men come in, pointing a gun at him to get up, he does, and then the full-on rape ensues. This is all edited (along with Hoffman, oblivious, off on a strange Quail hunt) to maximum efficiency, and is probably one of the more provoking scenes from any film of the 70s. Is this really more of a male viewpoint, the typical 'no means yes' thought process by the director, or is there something even deeper not being read right off the bat? Or is it clear as day that this is just the real, shattering force to drive the rest of the film? The latter might be truer to me. This then becomes further complicated later in the film as the men break into the house, and what preceded it with the tension she has with David.
Then, as the film rolls into its final chapters, as Henry Niles (David Warner, always good) has been hit by accident by David driving home and taken in, is suspected of murder of a girl. "This is my home, I can't let them in" says David, and so the violence becomes widespread, almost bordering over the top (i.e. bear-trap). It comes about as close as one could figure to the final act of The Wild Bunch, and it has that same visceral impact. But in a way, these scenes aren't really AS engaging as some other ones, like a very tense scene where before all of this happens David and Amy (George) go to some Catholic shindig, where her visions of what just happened, surrounded by the very same men who committed the act, are compacted into something quite terrible for her. This editing job, headed by three editors, is quite eye-catching, if of the period, and sets the tone for everything that takes place. It's quite the subjective movie, a precursor perhaps to Taxi Driver. But this is not to say I thought the film flawless- George's performance, while occasionally gripping and sincere, usually didn't do it for me and almost made the character too thin to really understand (maybe only till the very end does her character come full circle). It also has a couple of last lines that are either very good or very annoying. And some of the early scenes in the film make a little too obvious what the mood might become.
But all of this aside, Straw Dogs works as a film meant to turn the heat up about what it means to reach the 'breaking point' for both men and women, who are far from being very 'good' people but try not to be evil either. The ones that are made to be the antagonists are almost cartoonish (one of the British thugs practically can't stop laughing, that is until he breaks into the house). There's a lot that can be read into this film, and it might even work better for me on a repeat viewing. It's controversy doesn't really wane thirty-five years later, and it questions the actions of almost all involved, almost asking us to judge, but presenting us in general with a vision into a kind of hell. Hence why it might work best in psychology classes.
There have been many intelligent men in our time that have succumbed to the alluring beauty of women. Dustin Hoffman's character is a mathematician who seems to revel in his intelligence, he married a young hot piece of ass who right from the beginning is aware of her sexuality, they retreat to a small town which is necessary in adding to the provocation of these guys, good looking sheep probably get these guys going. Hoffman is too wrapped up in his own head to realize that his young wife's needs are being compromised.
Susan George really does a great job portraying the type of young naive women that most man would give too much credit to. There is nothing more dangerous that a young hot girl and a guy has got to be aware of it always or she will ruin you either intentionally or not. Anyway that first shot of her walking down the street really showed the power of this girl, shes innocently aware of herself and doesn't really grasp the danger reflected in the way the local boys look at her, and the way they thrust their machismo at Dustin's character, there is such a basic element being thrown around these scenes, and damn Dustin for his cowardice nature. Anyway the further we move along the more of a build up we get, its necessary because it makes the rape and the seige that much more believable.
Now the rape scene is completely disturbing because of Susan George's reaction to it, and for 1971 I can see how it was viewed as mysoginistic and depraved. IF we look at it its speaks volumes towards who we are as man and women. You know what? she did like it, she also hated the fact that she liked it, she hated herself for liking it, she was confused and conflicted by her feelings, her feelings for the first act with a guy that was acting the way she wished her husband did, it helps also that she did date this guy before. to say that she thought of her husband and was in some kind of dream like state is more of a diservice to the nature of women that what really went on. What she didn't like was the sodomy by some other guy, while the first dude held her down, it went too far. It became scary to her, she had no control whats so ever and it scared her. This scene made me uncomfortable because it turned me on and repelled me the same way it did to her character. To unleash my base male nature, she was hot, the actresses in the 70's especially the british and italians were drop dead sexy and georgeous, they don't make them like that any more.
Finally this whole business about the pederast who kills that girl and becomes the center point of the seige. I love the irony, I love the blurred line of right and wrong, what makes me uncomfortable are the implications of this storyline. This was not the pederast's fault in a sense, it was the fault of another young women who wanted to have the same effect on men that Susan George did, she wasn't as well aware of herself and unfortunately tried to go the easy route by seducing a mentally unstable man. Now this poor b**tard didn't have a chance and he accidently killed her, was it her fault Not necessarily but the implications are there and that is too much truth for me.
Anyway the whole irony is that this guy is no better or now worse than the guys that raped Susan, he is probably alot better but he doesn't have the mentallity to control his animal urges but he tries, the other guys don't even try to contol theirs. The final seige was interesting in the way that Susan George acted, and I feel this is all based on Nieztche's view of women, you know they have no understanding of loyalty or such they do not think like men, on principle alone. Women always want men to take the easy way out of things, the logical way, why make things hard for stupid reasons. Well men do. Dustin decides on that night that he is not going to supress his animal side, he is going to be a man for once and stand up to both the primal aggression around him and the true nature of women.
Look this films shows the flaws and the strengths of both sexes, it shakes up what society has made each sex believe is the way they should act, how we have disregarded our true nature that when it rears its ugly head it can really cause problems. We are not that far evolved.
Love this film.
Not a horror film in the traditional sense, this (one of the most controversial movies of the 1970s) is nonetheless an effective, violent and relevant piece of shock cinema. Peckinpah's statement is that in this world, like it or not, there is a genuine need for violence and he concentrates most on uncovering how common emotions (jealousy, vengeance, lust) can turn seemingly normal men evil. Containing strong performances from the entire cast, STRAW DOGS has been copied many times since, but seldom this effectively.
'Straw Dogs' is the closest he came to making a genre horror/thriller movie. If you enjoy 'Rio Bravo'-inspired siege movies such as Romero's 'Night Of The Living Dead' or Carpenter's 'Assault On Precinct 13', check this one out. But it is more than "just" a thriller - it features strong character development, and morally ambiguous situations among the tense build up to the explosive climax.
In these P.C. times 'Straw Dogs' offers no simple answers, but plenty of issues for discussion, and it is to be commended for that. "Right" or "wrong"? YOU decide!
!!!!! POSSIBLE SPOILERS !!!!!
Despite the hype I failed to see what the fuss was about . Ah yes that "rape" scene . It wasn`t rape with the first man but it was certainly rape with the second . I think . But I`m not sure , mainly down to the directing. I think . That`s the problem with this movie - It`s very difficult to understand the point Sam Peckinpah is trying to make and much of the story takes some swallowing . Uberwimp David Sumner decides he`s going to take a stand and protect a suspected murderer from a lynch mob ? Hmmm . I guess that this ridiculous turn of events had a motive behind it because whatever motive he had seemed to take place off screen
It could be easy to blame the screenwriters for much of the unexplained motives in the story but Peckinpah should take the blame for the film`s flaws . Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as David and Amy Sumner a newly wed couple ? One of the most unlikely onscreen couples in the history of cinema in my opinion . And did anyone laugh out loud as I did at the end when after a violent bloodbath David turns to the blood soaked Amy and asks " You all right ? " . What a bloody stupid question
And when you stop to think about it STRAW DOGS is a bloody stupid film . However I can`t help thinking Peckinpah knew fine well what he was doing when he made it and was aware of how the critics and moral guardians would take it when it was released . In short Sam Peckinpah is having a laugh at the expense of the establishment . It`s not his best film ( Choose between CROSS OF IRON or THE WILD BUNCH ) but it is his most extreme and infamous film and that alone makes it worth watching
I, like many of the reviews written here by users in the UK, took the opportunity to watch this film when it came on tv for the first time in the UK since it was released. I deliberately taped it and left it for a month or so before watching as I wanted it to be free of the hype and controversy that the network had stirred up with documentaries just before they screened it. Watching it away from all this it is difficult to see what all the fuss was about in some regards. Certainly what is socially acceptable in a film today is far beyond what was passed by censors then.
The plot is a strange mix of relationship drama and western. It is easy to focus on the stand off element of this film and the violence of the second half, but I don't think that that is what the film was about. One user called the first hour or so `a very slow build up', however by saying that, the suggestion is that the film only exists to deliver the concluding part. Rather, I got more from the film as a whole and found the `build up' to be interesting as it showed David's marriage cracking and crumpling, slowing exposing the issues and frustrations that exist just below the surface in their relationship. The fact that the action at the end of the film is relating to the underlying frustration Amy had with her husband's inability to `take a stand', indicates that this is the focus of the film.
Regardless of this, it still isn't a fantastic film. It is very slow at times and not all of it has been as well developed as hoped. Cornish locals are all mistrusting inbred hicks who are shifty says the film, which may or may not be true but it would have been better to have a better mix of local characters. The rape scene itself is difficult because for part of it Amy submits and appears to be enjoying and consenting, before others get involved and it becomes full violent rape. Questions over other issues suggests that the film maybe lingers to long on disturbing scenes but the fact that the film also shows the aftermath of the rape is to it's credit.
Due to the stereotyping, not all the actors get a chance to do good work. Hoffman is OK but I found his character difficult to get into. George is not as well developed as I would have hoped but is improved after her ordeal. The support cast of locals are not allowed to go much further than `get off me land' cliché and give lesser performances as a result.
Overall this was an interesting film as it all seems to be focused on the couple's marriage rather than the detail of who is being sheltered in what house etc. Taken on this level it is still far from perfect. The only thing I'm sure of is that anyone drawn to the film simply because of the hype in the press will probably miss the point altogether.
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.
Allegedly, the violence and sex in it are too much, even for adult
viewers. I find this argument preposterous, since the film is less
violent than Reservoir Dogs, less sexually explicit than Damage,
and less mindless than any 18-certifcate Arnold Schwarzenegger
film of the 80s or 90s.
It tells of an American scientist living in a backwoods part of
Cornwall who is humiliated and attacked by the locals when he
tries to protect a mentally ill man from them. These same locals
also take a liking to his wife, and in one famous scene, they rape
her while he is out duck shooting.
The rape scene is effective, but not really as offensive as people
have suggested. There's a weirdness about it, because the victim
Susan George seems to encourage her attackers rather than
resist them, and this is one of the main reasons that the scene
has been condemned by so many. However, I felt that it merely
added to the character's actions and made the rape believable
rather than exploitative.
This is one of Peckinpah's best, with only Cross of Iron, The Wild
Bunch and Ride the High Country in the same league. It's hard to
enjoy, but equally hard to forget.
Well, after however many years it was that this film was banned for, eventually it became viewable. Was this really worth the wait? Truthfully, yes. Hoffman is surprisingly stunning as a mild mannered pacifist who goes completely tonto in defending his house. The violence is graffic & once the drunks begin to attack the house, this film switches from an almost detailed portrayal of quiet yet intimidating rural life to what feels more like a piece of Terminator style action.
This film was understandably banned for quite a long time as not only is it explicitly violent, but a rape scene half way through the film (which sadly is what the film is most famous for) is both explicit & almost possitive towards the notion of rape. George's almost enjoyment at the first of the two rapes (both done one after the other) is worrying in itself & understandably condemned.
However, despite the negativity of the portrayal of the rape scene and the admittedly slow beginning, this film is worth watching. Perhaps not as stunning as a lot of reviews claim, but by no means as bad as others claim either. Go into this film with an open mind, don't abandon it after twenty minutes and be prepared to see a side of Dustin Hoffman that not many people probably expected to witness.
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
And when it does work it resembles the original Wicker Man film in all its dark sides.
So what makes Straw Dogs so intelligent? Well, first, it is simply one of the few accurate portrayals of REAL human emotion in cinema. Realism is a word that is thrown around constantly by writers/directors, but as Hollywood gets closer to what it thinks is realism, it just takes five steps back from being truly anything like how real humans think. Very few movies have ever achieved truly expressing how people interact without turning the characters into some podium to preach some idea the writer/director has, or just turning the characters into pieces of cardboard that move the plot along. Contrary to popular belief, the greatest acting in the world can't fix unrealistic characters. That works just about as much as a pretty coat of paint fixes a house that's ready to collapse in on itself. The emotion is Straw Dog's shining point. The two main characters' emotions are portrayed differently in every situation. One scene will end with a loving moment, then the next will open with a bitter one, then the next will open with completely indifference. Things that should have an emotional impact on the characters doesn't have any whatsoever. Actions that should cause them negative emotion cause them pleasure. Just when you find a character totally likable, they'll do something to ruin that feelinga lot like the betrayal of a friend. Put simply: I've seen countless movies in my life, but never once have I seen a movie with this much of a realistic emotional core.
Likewise, without spoiling anything, Straw Dogs goes where no movie in its time dared to go with its subject matter. While I wouldn't necessary call every idea presented here original, some of them are, and not a single one of them is a cliché. It's very relatable to A Clockwork Orangewhich came out the same yearin that way. I find it sad, however, that A Clockwork Orange is now considered some sort of classic, while Straw Dogs is still lesser known to the general public than a lot of foreign indie films. Straw Dogs nearly singlehandedly formed the groundwork for the thriller genre, and its influence can be seen in everything from other 70s movies to whatever cliché thriller is playing at the local theater as I type this. The ending is pure intensity, and very few movies can pull that off. The kills in the end of the film are a lot more graphic than anything I expected from a 70s film, and some are just brutal. Straw Dogs deserves more recognition.
So, if my review is entirely positive, why do I not give this a higher score? As much as I can relate to this movie, and as much as I appreciate it, I think giving this a perfect score is an insult to what the director was going for. Sam Peckinpah didn't want this film to be entertaining; he wanted it to truly disturb the viewer. Though that may be a little hard to do now in 2009, due to the countless rip-offs and rehashes of the subject matter, this is nowhere near easy viewing. Perfection is an extension of contentment, and I personally was not content with this movie. I wasn't supposed to be. It's a point-blank contradiction to the Hollywood formula that states you have to make the viewer go in their pants out of awe/contentment or you haven't done your job. That's why I can't give Straw Dogs a perfect score, but it didn't want one. It's too honest for that. It's too intelligent for that.