Straw Dogs (1971)

20 Aug

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American David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his English wife Amy (Susan George) move to England, where they are hoping they can enjoy the quiet life in a picturesque setting. Their move soon turns nightmarish when a group of locals start to harass the couple, becoming more menacing as the film progresses, leading to an epic conclusion.

As a quick warning, please be aware that there will be some plot points discussed that you may consider to be spoilers – if you don’t want to know them then stop reading now.Released in 1971, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs has long been seen as an iconic and controversial film. The concluding scenes are incredibly violent; I was expecting it to be fairly tame and just violent by the standards of the time but that isn’t entirely true. Don’t get me wrong, there are more graphically violent films made these days, but there are still moments that took me a little by surprise and I can see why it would have generated the controversy it did on it’s initial release.

The other key controversy is a rape scene that takes place at the mid point of the film. I’ve previously read a little around this and was intrigued to see for myself how bad it was. It is absolutely true that the scene in question makes for some extremely uncomfortable viewing and, again, given its era I was surprised at just how detailed it is. I don’t agree with those who would suggest that including a rape scene in a film glorifies the debasement of women – I don’t believe that to be the case. It is, sadly, something that happens in real life and can therefore justifiably be shown in a film. What is less acceptable to me is the way the scene plays out. By the end of the scene, the victim goes from desperately trying to fight her attacker off to seemingly enjoying the ordeal, and saying, “Please hold me” to him. Of everything in this movie, that is the one thing I found truly distasteful and, by the end of it, it did leave something of a sour taste. Perhaps I’m overreacting – I rarely pay any attention to people who refer to a films supposed controversy – but the conclusion to the scene just didn’t sit right with me.

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As for the rest of the film, I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Dustin Hoffman gives an excellent performance as a quiet man pushed to the edge, forced to take drastic action to defend himself, his wife and his home from attack.

Sam Peckinpah’s direction is excellent. The tension builds well. If at any point things start to feel a little dull, I would suggest that is more to do with the film now beginning to show it’s age rather than being any fault of the director at the time. I loved the cinematography; the closing scenes feel truly claustrophobic. I also found the score to be effective in aiding the mounting tension. Some of the framing is also superb, really creating a feeling of menace throughout the picture.

Overall Straw Dogs is an excellent tale of how somebody can be pushed to the edge to defend themselves and their principles. If a part of the film didn’t sit right with me, at least it stirred up some feeling, which is better than a boring film eliciting no emotion at all. I would definitely have this down as a ‘must-see’ and I’m glad I’ve finally been to mark out off my personal list of unseen classics.

7/10

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