STRAW DOGS is one of Sam Peckinpah's finest films, a relentless study in violence and machismo that is shocking, not only for its explicit gore, but for the degree to which it manipulates "civilized" audiences. Even the most passive viewer may find himself silently cheering on the carnage
at the film's climax--an act that, in retrospect, gives much cause for discomfort.
David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a quiet mathematician, and his wife Amy (Susan George) seek to escape urban violence by moving to her birthplace, a small Cornish village. They hire four locals to build a garage and it isn't long before they start making life unpleasant for David. Led by Charlie
(Del Henney), an ex-boyfriend of Amy's, the four workers ridicule David and ogle Amy, who seems to encourage their attentions. David, trying to win their acceptance, accepts an invitation to accompany them on a hunting trip; they desert him, and two of the men return to the cottage and rape Amy,
who is ambivalent about the experience and doesn't tell her husband.
Some time later, the couple attend a local church function where Amy, haunted by memories of the rape, has a breakdown. Driving home in a dense fog, they knock down Henry (David Warner), the town simpleton. Unbeknownst to the couple, Henry has just strangled a young girl who taunted him. They
take the injured man back to their home and, when an angry mob (including David's tormentors) learn of Henry's whereabouts and lay siege to the house, David resolves to fight them. What follows is a brilliantly edited, spectacularly violent climax.
STRAW DOGS generated tremendous controversy upon its release in 1971. Many found the violence too graphic and gratuitous, as well as taking offence at the film's neolithic sexual politics: by resorting to brutal, deadly violence, the man proves himself true master of his "property"--his house and
his wife. The film is played as a power struggle between husband and wife (David and Amy play several symbolic games of chess during the proceedings), with Amy pushing her partner's tolerance to breaking point. Her strategies include teasing the workers and disrupting David's work, while he
counters by abusing her cat and accepting the hunting invitation. But David's checkmate comes when--after he's killed a few men and become shockingly abusive--he compells Amy to shoot one of the assailants. David has thus "won" the game, losing everything that he stood for in the process. This
cynical premise, combined with the fact that David has actually enjoyed the violence, is difficult to swallow.
STRAW DOGS contains one of Hoffman's most layered performances, with the final explosion of violence all the more believable thanks to his initial, mild-mannered quietude. George combines suggestive sexuality with spitefulness to create an equally unforgettable character. Peckinpah handles
everything with consummate skill, exerting complete control over his audience's responses. STRAW DOGS is full of arresting images (the mesmerizing opening dissolve was borrowed by David Cronenberg for the beginning of THE FLY), perfectly complemented by Jerry Fielding's eerie, Oscar-nominated
score. Whatever your reservations about its content and philosophy, STRAW DOGS remains one of the strongest and most memorable statements about violence ever put on screen.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1971
- Rating: R
- Review: STRAW DOGS is one of Sam Peckinpah's finest films, a relentless study in violence and machismo that is shocking, not only for its explicit gore, but for the degree to which it manipulates "civilized" audiences. Even the most passive viewer may find himself… (more)