Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray Review

Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray ReviewThis past year’s remake of Straw Dogs accomplishes what few remakes can: It visits new territory while remaining respectful of its predecessor. Everything from the low-key score to the sparse, simple shot selections could easily have been at home in the 1971 Sam Peckinpah-directed original, and yet both the story and the tone of the film have been updated enough to give this movie a life of its own, independent of the picture from which it was spawned.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the movie is a remake of a more obscure classic (if that term isn’t an absolute oxymoron) that gives this film such freedom to branch out in new and more elaborate directions without detracting from the pillars that keep the story standing aloft. It may also be the fact that now, more than ever, the country is full of people who feel powerless; we’ve become a society that’s complacent and compliant until we’re left with no choice but to be otherwise.

No matter how you slice it, however, 2011’s Straw Dogs is a magnificent work of cinema.

In the remake, as in the original, David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth) move down to Amy’s family property in her southern hometown. But when Amy’s old flame, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) begins working on the Sumners’ dilapidated barn, things begin to go south in a hurry.

Charlie and his friends begin making life hell for the Sumners, culminating in a showdown at the old farmhouse that forces David to stop turning the other cheek and to finally fight back.

I won’t delve too deep into the story (for that, I’ll point you to my review of the original Straw Dogs on Blu-ray) except to say that it still holds up. It’s the new direction as well as the performances that make this movie.

Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray Review

In terms of performance, this movie belongs to James Marsden, who is perhaps among the five most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. And the role of the massively insecure and consistently threatened David was practically written for Marsden.

Take a look at Marsden’s two biggest roles. In the X-Men franchise, he played Cyclops – a man who was constantly on the verge of losing his love interest to Wolverine. In Superman Returns he played Jason White, the supposed father of Lois Lane’s child. This guy’s no stranger to playing a part with his back constantly being shoved against the wall.

And it was an absolute joy (not to mention the fact that it was more than a little disturbing – in a good way) to watch the final act of this movie and finally see him push back.

Bosworth also does an excellent job as Amy. She brings both a playfulness and a toughness to the role that was missing when Susan George originated the part back in 1971, but she also maintains the vulnerability that makes the horrors her character endures that much more painful.

Skarsgard is deliciously creepy and threatening as Charlie, but the True Blood star gives the character a certain amount of depth even with the understanding that he’s more or less irredeemable.

James Woods has a role in the movie as the town drunk (formerly a legendary high school football coach) who instigates the final conflict at the Sumner house. Woods is fantastic, but then again, he’s fantastic in pretty much everything – even in Straight Talk where Dolly Parton was a call-in radio show host.

As for the direction, Rod Lurie (who also wrote the screenplay) has put together a wonderfully-paced film. While his version lacks the sheer, unbreakable tension of the original, it more than makes up for it in the intensity department.

The most memorable aspects of the original film were the violent sexual assault and the third act, which finds the Sumner home under siege. Those remain the remake’s defining attributes, but when it comes to these scenes, the pacing is far less deliberate than they were when helmed by Peckinpah.

Lurie’s version of Straw Dogs hits hard, and it hits fast.

There are a few gaps in the screenplay that needed to be filled in for this film to be a modern classic (for instance, at one point David flat-out explains the title’s meaning in a not-so-subtle manner that’ll make even an amateur roll his/her eyes), but they’re pretty negligible.

Also, while it ratchets up the intensity level, this version doesn’t bear the shock value of its predecessor, but that’s to be expected the second time around. Again, a minor gripe at worst.

All-in-all, Straw Dogs is a movie that looks great and works on virtually every emotional level.

Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray Review

High-Def Presentation

Sony brings Straw Dogs to Blu-ray with an absolutely beautiful 1080p MPEG AVC-encode that pops to life. The outdoor scenes are wonderfully lush while scenes in and around the Sumner house are delightfully dark without ever becoming obfuscated. There was no artifacting and no noise that I could detect, and the black levels make even the darkest, murkiest scenes look positively glorious.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally well-done both in terms of big moments (the fire fight-turned-bloodbath that climaxes the movie) and more subtle ones (it’s the sound that will make you jump when the Sumner’s cat pops up out of nowhere). It’s a truly immersive soundtrack. If there’s a complaint to be made it’s that this movie would’ve been an ideal candidate for a 7.1 mix. In spite of that, though, this is an amazing lossless track that shows off everything the Blu-ray format is capable of.

Beyond the Feature

Straw Dogs has been given a nearly royal treatment (at least in comparison to some other recent releases) when it comes to a selection of bonus features. And, for a change, they’re all of tip-top quality.

The one that stands out above the rest is the Audio Commentary with Lurie. About twenty minutes into the commentary it becomes crystal clear that this was not a director who took a mandate from a studio to take a controversial older film and make a blockbuster out of it. Lurie’s comments about the creative process and about knowing when and where to deviate from the source material are inspiring and give some measure of hope in a seemingly hopeless world where writers and directors are content to simply rehash what has come before them.

Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray Review

The rest of the extra materials are as follows:

  • Courting Controversy: Remaking a Classic (7:41) – The cast and crew essentially write a collaborative compare-and-contrast essay about the original and the new version with special emphasis on the topics of moving the film from rural England to the deep South and the challenges of filming the rape scene.
  • The Dynamics of Power: The Ensemble (6:20) – The actors talk about the inner workings of their characters and what it took to bring them to life.
  • Inside the Siege: The Ultimate Showdown (7:29) – Lurie and his crew break down the intricacies of shooting the climactic showdown between Charlie and his goons and the Sumners.
  • Creating the Sumner House: The Production Design (4:09) – The moment I saw the Sumner house on-screen in this movie, I was immediately struck by how similar in appearance it was to the original and found myself hoping for a bonus feature that would give the production team its due. As with all things concerning this Blu-ray release, I was not disappointed.

Sony has pulled out all the stops on a movie that, unfortunately for audiences, not many people made the trip to the multiplex to see. Between the top-shelf film, a glorious audio and visual presentation, and a wide selection of extras, Straw Dogs is by far one of the best under-the-radar Blu-rays of the year.

Shop for Straw Dogs on Blu-ray for a discounted price at (December 20, 2011 release date).

Straw Dogs (2011) Blu-ray Review

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