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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Sam Peckinpah
Cast:
Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan, T.P. McKenna, Del Henney, Jim Norton
Writing Credits:
Gordon Williams (novel, "The Siege of Trencher's Farm"), David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah

Tagline:
Every Man Has A Breaking Point.

Synopsis:
A young American mathematician, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), and his English wife, Amy (Susan George), move to a Cornish village, seeking the quiet life. But beneath the seemingly peaceful isolation of the pastoral village lies a savagery and violence that threatens to destroy the couple, culminating in a brutal test of Sumner’s manhood and a bloody battle to the death. One of the most controversial films ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is a harrowing and masterful investigation of masculinity and the nature of violence.

Box Office:
Budget
$3.251 million.
Domestic Gross
$11.148 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 9/6/2011

Bonus:
• Trailer and TV Spots


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Straw Dogs [Blu-Ray] (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 2, 2011)

A tale of two brutal movies: in 1971, we got two flicks that took place in England and strongly featured rape as a major component. Both came from famous directors and elicited a strong reaction.

However, these cases differ when we examine their legacies. On one hand, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has become recognized as a classic, and it stands among the director’s best work. (Personally, I think it’s his only totally successful film.) On the other hand, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs largely became “buried”, as it seems viewed negatively by many movie partisans. (A 2011 remake seems likely to give it renewed attention, though.)

While I don’t think Dogs ranks alongside Clockwork, but the movie doesn’t deserve its one-time lack of recognition. A rough and cold film, Dogs doesn’t deliver the visceral creativity of Kubrick’s masterwork, but it accomplishes its goals nonetheless.

At the start of Dogs, we meet American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his young English wife Amy (Susan George). The pair recently relocated to the Cornish village in which she grew up, and we see their interactions with locals. We quickly meet an old lover of Amy’s, Charlie Venner (Del Henney), who seems intent on rekindling that sexual fling. We also encounter local mean drunk Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughn) and other low-lifes like Cawsey (Jim Norton) and Scutt (Ken Hutchison), the guys who’re working on the Sumner home. Other characters include simple-minded town perv Henry Niles (David Warner) and Hedden’s precociously sexy daughter Janice (Sally Thomsett); the latter demonstrates a clear crush on David.

Multiple tensions appear evident via these different folks, with an emphasis on the attitudes between David and Amy. The two seem detached and don’t connect very well, and their move to her childhood home doesn’t appear to help. If anything, their arrival in England looks like it increased problems, as the locals don’t cotton to the intrusion of the seemingly arrogant American.

The first half of the film follows the slow building of tension, with an emphasis on matters between David and Amy as well as between the houseworkers – primarily Venner, Scutt and Cawsey – and the couple. We observe the sexual strain as the workmen ogle Amy and she doesn’t totally rebuke the attention.

The nastiness escalates when Amy finds her cat dead in her closet. She feels one of the workmen did it and wants David to confront them. However, the passive-aggressive mathematician doesn’t follow through as promised, and he ends up going on a duck-hunting trip with the guys.

This event essentially seems to be a pretense to get him away from home and leave Amy alone. Venner rapes her, and Scutt joins in after he finishes. Clearly, this negatively affects Amy, though she doesn’t tell David what happened. From there, matters become even nastier, as events transpire to lead to a battle between David and the others during the film’s climax.

Straw Dogs seems to be a polarizing movie. Some leap to its defense, while others denounce it as fascist, misogynistic, and pro-violence. While I can see how some might reach those conclusions, I can’t say I agree with them. The alleged misogyny seems to miss the point most significantly. Indeed, Amy comes across as the closest thing to a sympathetic character in the whole thing. Though we should embrace David as our hero, he maintains a fairly intense level of passive aggression throughout the film. He often seems selfish and self-centered, and he doesn’t appear to understand how his actions negatively affect others.

Virtually every character in Dogs has multiple flaws, and the local men certainly come across as problematic. Represented by Venner and the others, they seem crass and crude. Again, this leaves Amy as the most sympathetic personality. While she clearly displays some of her own issues, she feels more likable and less problematic when compared to the others.

Much of the controversy surrounding Dogs stems from the rape scene. This doesn’t occur simply because a rape occurs. No, Dogs provoked outrage because of Amy’s reaction. When Venner takes her, she initially resists but then she seems to enjoy the experience. No such apparent pleasure greets Scutt’s attack on her, but what we perceive as Amy’s acceptance of Venner’s violation clearly doesn’t sit well with many people.

As I see it, though, the reality seems more complicated. For one, Amy and Venner had a history as lovers, and the pair clearly flirted earlier in the movie. In addition, we see that Amy’s love life with David appears less than satisfying. It appears plausible that she’s willing to accept this seemingly unwanted intrusion because she really did want it.

That doesn’t mean that Amy wanted to be raped, but the film doesn’t depict Venner’s actions in a terribly aggressive way; he’s more forceful than violent. Unlike Scutt and the others, Venner presents a more complicated character and isn’t just a cartoon goon. This comes to bear more fully in the film’s climax, when we learn more of his attitudes toward Amy and vice versa.

This issue offers something of a minefield, and I recognize that it’s a thin line between condemning and condoning the behavior depicted in the film. However, I think it seems clear that Peckinpah doesn’t obviously perpetuate the concept that women like to be raped. Does Amy get into the action with Venner? Yes, it appears so. But even though Amy does appear to take pleasure from Venner’s actions, the situation seems more complicated than Dogs’ foes would make you believe.

Peckinpah makes things muddier due to the way he features Amy throughout the film. For our first glimpse of her, the camera focuses on a close-up of her braless chest with nipples poking through her shirt. In subsequent scenes, Peckinpah photographs her in similarly leering ways, but this doesn’t come across like gratuitous T&A. Instead, the camerawork involves the viewer and makes us complicit in the nastiness. This makes it that much more difficult for viewers to distance themselves from the action, which in turn means that the film possesses more of a punch than some might like.

Or you could just try to turn off your brain and watch Straw Dogs as something of an action flick. The final act comes across almost like a bloodier version of Home Alone as David defends his abode. (Ironically, Dogs actually depicts less violence than the cartoonish Alone, which packs a tremendous amount of mayhem into its assault.) Straw Dogs presents no easy answers or simplistic notions during its journey into violence. It doesn’t sit well with many viewers, but unlike amateurish fare such as The Last House On the Left, Dogs actually goes somewhere and has something to say.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-

Straw Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was never a stunning presentation, but it usually looked pretty good.

Sharpness was positive. Due to the original photography, some shots could be a tad soft – especially during interiors – but the majority of the flick offered more than acceptable definition and delineation. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws were minor; I saw occasional specks – mostly during the opening credits and the duck-hunting scene – but most of the movie was clean.

Despite the somber setting, Dogs presented some vivid colors at times, and the disc replicated these nicely. The hues looked bright and vibrant when appropriate, and the more low-key hues also seemed positive. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was good. As noted, some of these low-light shots could be a little mushy in terms of sharpness, but they looked fine given the photographic constraints. While the picture didn’t dazzle, it looked more than satisfactory given the film’s age and origins.

In terms of audio, we get only a remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 presentation here; earlier DVDs offered the film’s original monaural track, which sadly goes absent for the Blu-ray. Not that the soundfield did much to open up the material. Surround usage was almost non-existent, and much of the movie focused on the front center channel. Music and some effects broadened to the sides – especially during the long climax – but this was a restrained soundscape.

Audio quality was dated but acceptable. Music didn’t play a major role, but the score was reasonably clear and well-defined. Speech tended to be somewhat thin and reedy; though lines were intelligible, they didn’t seem especially natural. Effects lacked prominent distortion but they didn’t seem especially accurate or dynamic; they were decent at best. That sentiment went for the whole package; this was an average mix for its age.

Only minor extras appear here. The Blu-ray provides the film’s trailer as well as three TV spots. That’s an improvement over the supplements-free 2004 DVD, but it’s a big step down from the bonus feature-packed Criterion DVD from 2003.

While less bloody than other Sam Peckinpah flicks like The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs comes across as no less brutal. Actually, without the genre trappings of a Western, Dogs packs a more powerful punch; we can more easily relate to this contemporary tale. The Blu-ray delivers generally good picture, and adequate audio but skimps on supplements. I’d like to find more bonus materials here, but this still ends up as the best representation of the film I’ve seen.

To rate this film go to the original review of STRAW DOGS.

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