Joshua Reviews Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs [MGM Blu-ray Review]

Remakes are an interesting beast.

Most fail to truly connect with either what made the original piece so great, or what would make it great in today’s society.   However, occasionally (something like Let Me In or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre), a film not only works on its own, but truly updates a given story for more than just a new language or a new time period.

With Rod Lurie’s long discussed remake of Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece, Straw Dogs, hitting theaters this weekend, MGM has gone ahead and released a brand new Blu-ray of the classic that may lack a wallop when it comes to supplements, but is a worthy upgrade for those unable to hunt down the golden egg that is Criterion’s out-of-print bit of perfection.

Based on the brilliant ‘The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm’ penned by author Gordon Williams, the film stars Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, a married man who, with his wife (played by the stunning Susan George), leave the Vietnam-protest filled shores of the US and head to England so he may be able to finish a book.   However, things begin to go horribly wrong after some of Amy’s old ‘friends’ begin to accost her and her hubby, until all Hell breaks loose.   Featuring controversy-sparking violence and some striking gender politics, Straw Dogs is at times difficult to watch, and yet impossibly captivating.   Simply put, it’s one of cinema’s most interesting thrillers.

One must begin discussing the film, at the same place the film itself began existing; in the pages of Williams’ novel.   Amping up the violence and politics of the book, the film version neither stays too close to the novel, nor breaks from it in places that don’t seem natural.   The film itself as a bit of adaptation is breathtaking.   Taking important cues from the novel as well as breaking from it when it deems important, this is one hell of a bit of adaptation.

And as a film, it’s bloody brilliant.

The most important thing with regards to a film like this is the performances behind those involved.   Hoffman gives a pitch perfect performance, and fits the role of unassuming writer perfectly.   You don’t quite think he’s capable of saving his wife and ultimately, as he sees important, the house, but when he is pushed up against the wall, he has the right bit of machismo to make everything seem like a natural progression.   Susan George is a bit one note, which isn’t the oddest of things, as the character herself is not seen as much more than that.   Her character is also asked to pull quite a bit of heavy lifting, as she is the brunt of a ton of, often brutal, violence, so it’s an oddly polarizing performance.   Finally, Del Henney is a great baddie, taking on the role of Charlie Venner, as he is the right bit of brooding and ultimately brutal making his performance another integral part of the amazing success of this film.

Peckinpah is also at the top of his game.   Not afraid of brutality, Peckinpah doesn’t shy away from anything visually, particularly when it comes to the film’s intense violence.   Each shot is framed and choreographed with the utmost style, particularly the final third, which becomes something of a gothic, almost surrealist bit of filmmaking.   Covered in dense fog, the final siege of the farm plays out in such a frantic and off the wall fashion that it leaves the viewer running out of breath after each cut.   Thematically, the film is also quite intriguing.

With its portrayal of a man pushing himself to the edge to save himself and his wife, the film is both a great thriller, and also the prototypical revenge picture.   Hoffman’s turn from shlubby writer to brooding badass is both believable and the outline for each thriller of its ilk since.   Peckinpah steeps the film in such naturalism and such style that it’s unlike anything you’ll see from the year’s prior to this picture, or after it.   It’s not a perfect film (it does run a tad too long, and some of the gender politics can be seen as a bit off putting), but if one is able to forgive a few of its downfalls, this is one film you’ll never forget.

However, this may not be the greatest way to watch it.

As a Blu-ray, the film has some superb audio/visual aspects.   Visually, the film is striking.   The transfer is really great, and the soundtrack is killer.   That said, supplement wise, this thing is damn near bare bones.   Including a collection of TV spots and a trailer, the film really lacks the supporting material that a film like this deserves.   Hell, there isn’t even a booklet.   It’s sad to see such a brilliant thriller receive such a bare bones upgrade like this one.

Overall, this film is a masterpiece.   The release however, isn’t quite that.   A great transfer be damned, this Peckinpah classic features absolutely nothing of note supplement wise.   Fans of the film will get a kick out of the update, but if you have some bones to spare, hunt down the Criterion DVD, as it will feed your need for supplements like this Blu-ray can’t quite do.   The transfer sure as hell is great, though.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.