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Le Stephanois Brings The Old Male Barroom Attitude To Rod Lurie's STRAW DOGS!

Beaks here...

Rod Lurie's remake of STRAW DOGS isn't due out until September 2011, but the film has already been test screened a couple of times, and, last week, was shown to students at Syracuse University. Reactions are, predictably, all over the board on this one, and they tend to break down along Peckinpah party lines - which is why the below review from Le Stephanois is so intriguing. He's a "major" Peckinpah fan who happens to prefer Lurie's remake. Here's one suitable for framing, Rod...
It's hard for me to recall a remake that has drawn as much ire as STRAW DOGS, which seemingly everyone (at least everyone on the IMDb message boards) has lambasted and written off entirely. They refuse to believe that it could be good in its own right, that Lurie could have actually made a decent film. After seeing it, I can confidently say that anyone who might have harbored some prejudice towards the film should, quite simply, be ashamed. Neither I nor Rod Lurie need tell you that he is not trying to best Peckinpah, though it appears the naysayers demand some sort of explanation as to why it's being remade. That's easy. STRAW DOGS is arguably the best example of Peckinpah's misogynist ideology (this coming from a major fan of his work); Lurie, whose works are often defined by strong female protagonists, set our to reverse the original's misogynist implications. David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth) are certainly recognizable as reincarnations of Peckinpah's David and Amy, though their ideals are altogether different. Lurie puts different human beings in situations close to what Peckinpah devised, and he does so brilliantly. The plot of Lurie's STRAW DOGS - David and Amy Sumner seek solace in Amy's hometown so that David can write in peace, only to be brutally antagonized by the locals - hews close to the original, save for some slight alterations. David is a screenwriter and not a mathematician, and the setting is the fictional town of Blackwater, Mississippi, and not rural England. The townies' new identities then correlate. One of the most admirable qualities of the picture, which most probably did not expect of it, is its slow-burning tension. This is not an obnoxiously chaotic exercise in extreme violence, but a classically photographed, deliberately paced and thought-provoking thriller, a rarity in today's mainstream cinema. Just because it is not relentlessly violent does not mean it is in any way 'STRAW DOGS-lite,' however; indeed, it is just as brutal and arguably as discomforting as the original, a major triumph considering Lurie's ideological framework is nowhere near as controversial as Peckinpah's misogynist mindset. The siege at the end of the film is extraordinarily riveting, the ending itself a revelation of sorts. And none of it is cheap or self-indulgent; the violence is beautifully choreographed, achieving a rhythmic intensity that is well-nigh overwhelming. It is during the siege that Marsden makes a quantum leap as a performer, projecting an eerie confidence that lends an extra degree of weight to the film's haunting conclusion. The utilization of the film's setting is similarly outstanding, as the bloodthirsty nature of a familiar southern football town mirrors the air of violence that persists throughout the picture. The meaning of the title is clearer (it's almost as if the title didn't necessarily suit Peckinpah's film, considering how well Lurie articulates its meaning), and the town's having an identity imbues the film with a unique atmospheric tension. Lurie masterfully cultivates that tension so as to constantly remind the audience that they are in the presence of men who are predisposed to committing acts of violence with a primal mentality, having been conditioned to beat the hell out of anyone that crosses them, be it on the field or in a more domestic arena. The acting is uniformly terrific, and Alexander Skarsgard might just be the best thing about the movie. In a subtle tour de force, Skarsgard is utterly mesmeric; you cannot take your eyes off him for one moment, and you even root for him and relate to him in the oddest scenarios. As a former high school standout whose knee - and scholarship - lasted just three semesters at the University of Tennessee, Skarsgard is much more relatable and dynamic than the Charlie (Del Henney) in Peckinpah's film. There is much to be said for Marsden and Bosworth too, both of whom give the finest performance of their careers thus far. Marsden tackles the Dustin Hoffman role with uncommon poise, unintimidated by the stature of the man whose part he inherited. Bosworth gives a mature, nuanced and at times disquieting turn, revealing a side of herself that should lead to plenty more roles in high-pedigree dramas and thrillers. Lurie's film is certainly not perfect, though it should obliterate the low expectations placed upon it by a small army of Peckinpah fans. They're certainly entitled to their opinion, but they would be wise to reserve their judgment until the picture is released next year.

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