Straw Dogs (1971) (R)
There's something intentional and deeply disturbing about Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs". The film makes no qualms about showing sexual violence, lost manhood, and a cultish society.
Hovering over a small city in England, the camera captures a confusing glimpse of many lives: there's the brothers that hang around the bar, a drunk father who's always ready to pick a fight, a mentally challenged "pervert" and his brother, a minister, and a husband and wife.
The movie's opening scene strikes a chord, one that makes the viewer feel like a peeping tom. The camera ogles Amy (Susan George) as she walks down the street. Men peer out of telephone booths and hide behind poles to catch a better look at the blonde beauty. She oozes sex appeal, appearing bra-less and shameless in most scenes. She is married to an astrophysicist (Dustin Hoffman) who has gotten a grant for his research and is trying to find the time to work, but his studies keep getting interrupted by his wife, the men working on his garage, and his cat.
David, her husband, is jealous but not overbearing. He knows that his wife is beautiful just as she knows it, though he does wish that she could "grow up", something he tells her many times during the film.
"Straw Dogs" is not pleasant to watch, Peckinpah doesn't tap into the voyeuristic idea of survival or revenge that so many other directors would have with this piece. It's a film about suppression, guilt, confusion, and anger.
David asks a couple of brothers, the ones from the bar, to help him finish his garage. They seem more intent on staring at his wife and loafing around.
For much of the first hour of the movie, "Straw Dogs" slowly establishes itself by introducing characters and grounding their personalties...none of which are very pleasant. David can be too curt, his wife can be too promiscuous, and everyone else can be too creepy.
Films have often been made about the madness within, Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson seem to love this...but I doubt anything has been more insane or more internalized than "Straw Dogs". Its ending does have a magnificent descent into the madness; but the madness remains after the final frame...and not in the way you would expect.
Because of the adult nature of the film and the graphic way that Peckinpah pain-stackingly creates uncomfortable scenes, "Straw Dogs" can be a lot to swallow.
In fact, the editing of the film is also commendable, it blends one scene into each other with flashbacks and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. In this regard, the film could be vaguely reminiscent to Haneke's "Funny Games", though that movie was based on films like this.
Dustin Hoffman gives a great performance as a man challenged and Susan George isn't exactly likable as Amy. Perhaps it's how the character was written that makes her so annoying and screamy; but Amy is hard to like.
In its most audacious scenes, the film implies some very heavy ideas: like coping with sexual violence or hidden desires.
The point of the film seems lost under all of the screaming and the insanity. If Peckinpah wanted to just make an entertaining film, he shouldn't have made it so long or so...bizarre.
Posted by Micah Jones