Rod Lurie, back before he became a writer-director of thoughtful adult films like The Contender, The Last Castle and Nothing But the Truth, spent time in the trenches as an entertainment reporter and film critic, and he brings that experience to bear in his latest film, a contemporary updating/remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971).
The original Dogs dug deeply into a failing relationship, between American David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife Amy (Susan George), facing pressure from locals doing work on their home. As the violence escalates, David realizes he must fight back and he does so with a vengeance. Lurie’s take makes the strain between David (James Marsden), a screenwriter, and his Mississippi-born actress wife (Kate Bosworth) less pronounced, but draws a strong and intriguing comparison between these two different Davids.
Hoffman has always been less of a physical man of action, befitting the image of the intellectual types of his day, whereas Marsden perfectly embodies a subtle modern spin — fit from jumping rope, drinking lite beer, etc., without that fitness being connected to labor. And when he encounters men — in particular, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), the leader of the contracting crew working on the Sumner home and former boyfriend of his wife — he constantly makes reference to work and class, heightening what develops into a definition of manhood. But this means that when it is time for this new David to “man up,” we are better prepared to accept and revel in his ascent because he is the idealized fairy tale version of a man in the social media age.
All of which proves that Lurie’s Straw Dogs isn’t content replaying Peckinpah’s grim, violent frames; instead he spun it into smart and subtle social commentary. Grade: B-plus
Opens wide Sept. 16.