Straw Dogs (1971)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Thriller
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Sam Peckinpah Sam Peckinpah
Dustin Hoffman Dustin Hoffman
Susan George Susan George
Peter Vaughan Peter Vaughan
T.P. McKenna T.P. McKenna
Del Henney Del Henney

7.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: June 07, 2007
Though his resume does not entirely reflect this, few directors have been as influential as the great Sam Peckinpah. His 1969 Western, "The Wild Bunch", was pretty much one of the first films to test the limits of movie violence and censorship in mainstream cinema, and it is still today, by all accounts, a very violent film. He never re-captured the same success as he did with this film, but he followed it up with some very fine, very underrated pieces of cinema, one of them being the most excellent "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". His next film after "The Wild Bunch" was the Jason Robards film, "The Battle of Cable Hogue", which would eventually inspire Clint Eastwood to bring us "Unforgiven" - also cited as Jason Robards' favorite film he ever did. The film after that was the widely forgotten about "Straw Dogs" - what I consider to be Peckinpah's masterpiece, a film that was banned in numerous countries and protested against in the United States.

The film tells the story of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George). David is a writer and needs some peace and quiet whilst writing his latest book. They end up moving to a small cottage in a rural village in England, where Amy grew up. Once there, they are almost immediately subjected to resentment from the villagers. Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughan) is a former 'friend' of Amy's who does not like David and goes out of his way to make that known to just about everyone. One day, Tom takes things to the next level and rapes Amy - one of the most brutal and realistic rape scenes every captured on film. Amy does not tell David about this, not that he would do anything. David's character is played as weak and nervous throughout - he confronts people only when he has to, and is petrified the entire time. When a young girl is found murdered, the townspeople blame a man named Henry Niles (David Warner) - they do so only because he is simple-minded and seems a likely enough suspect. By this time, Henry has taken refuse at David's home, where David refuses to let people get to him. As the mob comes to David's home hellbent on taking Henry with them, David must finally fight for his home, his wife and himself.

The final few minutes of this film are just incredible. "Unforgiven" is a good comparison. Dustin Hoffman's character turns on a dime and goes from a weak hearted coward to a renegade warrior who will stop at nothing to keep these men from invading his home. And he does all of this for a man who probably did what he was accused of doing. Hoffman's character doesn't care. He knows that what is happening is not right, and once he discovers what was done to his wife, the gloves come off and things really get messy. Most people get about forty-five minutes into the film and wonder when the hell something is going to happen. "Straw Dogs" takes a lot of time to develop the characters. If it didn't, the ending would not work so well. We see how timid and meek the David character is and we see how carefree and placid the Amy character is. We also see the growing threat that David faces from Tom, and the other men he has hired to work on his home. We see how they set him up and harass him and go out of their ways to make him paranoid. And David takes all they have to give and more for as long as he can. Peckinpah brilliantly sets up this feeling that something terrible is about to happen - and it does, again and again.

The performances here are stellar. Dustin Hoffman delivers one of his best roles ever as David Sumner, who has to go through so many ranges of emotion throughout the film. The final few moments are when Hoffman shines brightest - always seeming the biggest man, even when he is committing some very violent and very serious acts. David Warner is also particularly affective as Henry Niles. Funny story - David Warner seriously injured his leg on the set of this film - you can see him limping in some scenes. He was so worried that this would cause a problem with his being cast in other films that he asked that his name be removed from the film, and it was. But, he is great, Amy George does a fine - an exceptional ensemble that really isn't known to American film audiences very well. "Straw Dogs" use of the rape scene was also brilliant. The scene is very short and to the point, but it is graphic and very powerful. That scene along was responsible for this film being banned in a lot of countries. It took a long time for the uncut version to even be released in the United States. You can thank Peckinpah for being one of the pioneers of artistic freedom in films. "Straw Dogs" is an underrated and underseen classic that deserves to be re-discovered. It really is a fine motion picture, and in my opinion, Peckinpah's greatest legacy. 10/10.
Ginose #1: Ginose - added 05/27/2008, 11:32 PM
Agreed. That's that.
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