I saw Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs (due out Sept. 16) this morning and was immediately struck by two things: 1) The film is practically identical to Sam Peckinpah’s original, yet feels completely different (this is easily Lurie’s best work as a director); and 2) the violence isn’t nearly as shocking in 2011 as it was in 1971, but it doesn’t feel as cathartic or rousing as I expected. Instead, the mayhem felt vaguely depressing – a graphic, bloody depiction of the loss of humanity.
Pauline Kael famously referred to Peckinpah’s movie as a “fascist film,” but I doubt she would say the same about Lurie’s version, which boasts a much less graphic rape sequence and still-gory but swift violence that Lurie’s camera doesn’t linger on. I’ve been asking around lately and haven’t found a single person outside of movie critics and film buffs who has seen Straw Dogs: Peckinpah, I think, did a little too good a job at making sure his film was an unpleasant experience.
I’ll be writing more about Lurie’s remake closer to its theatrical release. But I’m extremely curious to see how modern audiences react to the movie, which is exceptionally well-acted and shot, but still uses violence as a way to bait the viewer’s bloodlust and thirst for revenge, then leaves you with an ashen, queasy aftertaste. Peckinpah’s picture was a product of the Vietnam era; Lurie’s comes after a protracted war in Iraq. Both films were made during a time of tumult and tell a near-identical story, yet they send you home in radically different moods. Sometimes, remakes make sense.