Sam Peckinpah is a name that goes along with controversy in the film world. In fact, one of his nicknames was “Bloody” Sam. Straw Dogs continued that streak of controversy, and even went on to be banned in the UK for 18 years! The reasons for this is Peckinpah’s unapologetic depictions of violence and rape, and his filming something so graphic at the time was pretty ballsy and I respect that. This has made the film somewhat of a keystone in modern film making, even if Peckinpah’s depiction of women can be somewhat… I don’t know… misogynistic?
David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are trying to get away from the anti-war protests and anger that has engulfed the United States, so to get some peace and quiet they move to a small village in Cornwall, England. This being the village where Amy grew up, she starts to get harassed by an old boyfriend. The troubles don’t stop there as a group of drunken villagers begin tormenting them day in and day out, until one day David just can’t take it anymore. As the villagers begin attacking his house, David lets out a much more violent side and shows that he will kill, maim, and otherwise disfigure anybody who steps through his door.
The first time through this movie, it feels really slow and really boring. I will admittedly say that for a while, I wasn’t really feeling the movie at all. Then the climax came and the whole drama played out and I was sitting on my couch in a state of shock. First of all, in terms of suspense, I can’t believe how intense and violent this climax is, and in such a way that I felt like I was stuck in the scene. The lighting and sound is gritty and dark, and once David begins blasting Irish music, my blood really starts pumping. Another thing that this now infamous climax does though is make you appreciate the slow boil of this movie and the constant pushing that the villagers do to David.
When I say slow, I mean slow. It seems, at times, that nothing is really happening in the story, but once the movie is one you realize that everything is connected and everything is important. This isn’t a very complicated movie when it comes to the story, but the tension is what really makes it. It seems like every line of dialogue is pushing the movie forward in some way. Plus the slow pace of the movie makes the climax that I just can’t stop talking about even better since we’ve been waiting and watching for an hour and some minutes.
We’ve all been pushed in some ways in our lives, whether it’s at work or home, it’s happened to us before. In this way, we can relate to David and stand by him in his acts of extreme violence. Peckinpah had it right there. In terms of the woman in the movie… that can be debated. In a way, her dynamic made the movie very interesting, up until the end when she was just annoying. Without giving too much of the plot away, Amy behaves in a way that people may find unrealistic and kind of sexist towards women. That’s really the only fault I have for this movie. Unfortunately, this fault could be a major turn off for some people, which is really disappointing considering how great this movie is.
Straw Dogs is a violent and evil ride. Evil is a weird way to put it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that have been stigmatized so much that it’s considered a necessary evil in the film world. It did help push film into the more modern direction and was a good early film in one of my favorite decades of film. This may not be for the weak stomached not folks who turn away at the possibility of cringing, but it is a very important movie and I love it very much!