Time: 117 Minutes
Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner
Susan George as Amy Sumner
Director: Sam Peckinpah
David (Dustin Hoffman) marries Amy (Susan George) and relocates to the interiors of Cornwall, a place where Amy was raised. However, an unfortunate event changes the course of their lives.
I hadn’t seen any of Sam Peckinpah movies before, so I’ve been meaning to get around to his work at some point. One of his movies which I’ve been hearing about for a while was Straw Dogs, I knew that it starred Dustin Hoffman and got quite a lot of controversy upon its initial release. It was originally rated X and was even banned in the UK for a number of years. So I went in knowing just the movie from its reputation and I can say that it earned it. It’s not a movie I want to watch again but overall, I think it was good.
Although I have some issues with it, the script is generally great, with a simple premise that is executed well. It’s quite slow to set up the characters, plot and setting all at once, never rushing anything. It does take its time for very good reason, really earning its runtime and pacing. The slow build-up of the downward spiral of the movie makes the final set piece more impactful, with the inevitably violent conclusion. It pretty much explodes in its last 30 minutes, as we see David’s (Dustin Hoffman) breaking point in the climax. It is a very hard movie to watch, even before the last act. On a base level it is a classic revenge story. However watching the movie even now, it’s not hard to see why it garnered so much controversy, especially in the early 1970s. None of the violence is easy to watch, and it is relentlessly uncomfortable. It even features a sacrifice of a cat, and there are rape scenes, so it is worth knowing that before going into the film. I know that these and other parts of the movie really turned off some people who watched it, I can’t really blame them. I will say that some of the movie wallows in its own misery a bit too much. There are moments where it felt like it was trying to play a lot of these moments for shock, though not as many as I was expecting going into it. In all fairness it does seem to want the audience to be repelled, so they at least succeed in that.
All the acting is great. Dustin Hoffman is the standout as the lead character of David, he’s phenomenal in the part. For much of the movie, Hoffman is timid, but has this violent undercurrent feeling simmering throughout. One thing that’s pretty clear is that David doesn’t come out of this movie as a hero by any means, in fact by the end he shows himself to be pretty much as bad some of the other people in the village. I thought Hoffman conveyed all of this quite well through his performance. Susan George’s performance as David’s wife is nuanced, and deserving of a lot of praise for her work as well. The antagonists are also menacing and hateable, well-acted on their parts.
This is the first Sam Peckinpah movie I’ve seen, and he’s certainly shown himself as a great director from this one movie alone. Even before the third act, there is this uncomfortable feeling throughout the movie, like something is really off. There’s a naturalism that the movie is shot with, the muted colour pallet and the UK Countryside atmosphere really gives the film a miserable vibe. The imagery is haunting and memorable, and the editing is fantastic and impactful, especially in the last act. The violence in the film is gritty, shocking, and feels real. A lot of the sequences in the third act are particularly well done, startling brutal and outstanding on a directing, editing and overall filmmaking level. The moody, dense and haunting score from Jerry Fielding also added a lot to the movie.
Straw Dogs is definitely a polarising psychological thriller that’s not for everyone. It’s not one that I want to revisit, even for me it’s a bit too bleak and brutal. However that was the point I guess. Still, it is a memorable film that’s greatly directed and with some solid performances. Definitely a movie that I respect and admire more than I enjoy.