Throughout his amazing directorial career he made films set in harsh unforgiving worlds where the central characters attempted to live honorably and peacefully ultimately failing and succumbing to their violent primal urges.
His Westerns such as The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and his crime thrillers such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia still remain controversial to this day but none of his work is as famous as Straw Dogs.
This 1971 brutally brilliant psychological thriller is a film not only more incendiary and notorious than his other movies but also the perfect pictorial piece on the violence and cruelty of human kind and its affects on an individual trying to avoid conflict at all costs.
Dustin Hoffman plays David a quiet, nervous American mathematician who has moved to England with his young wife Amy (Susan George) to live in the rural village she grew up in.
Although seemingly idyllic it is obvious from the outset that beneath the surface of the tiny community there are hidden secrets, bitter conflicts and cruel intentions all of which sits uncomfortably with David who finds his pacifist beliefs and non-confrontational attitude at odds with everyone else he meets.
With a group of local men including Amy’s old boyfriend hired to help repair his home David begins to realize the seemingly polite locals intentions towards himself and his wife, much like the rest of the village, are anything but good and as the harassment intensifies to shocking levels David is forced to act against everything he believes in to defend his home, his family and his very life.
Released on Blu-ray and special edition DVD overflowing with extras to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the film as well as the recent Hollywood remake Straw Dogs is still as controversially challenging and relevant as it was on its initial release when it was banned and then only available edited by the BBFC until 2002.
Adapted from The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams, Straw Dogs builds gradually and very believably from the starts thanks to the excellent performances especially from Hoffman and George.
Taking in a variety of themes and ideas from definitions of masculinity, relationship tensions, jealousy, community, identity, sexuality and more the naturalistic script and innovative editing and sound all work together excellently guided by Peckinpah’s deft direction.
The tiny world which David finds himself thrust into where everyone knows not only everyone’s business but the community monitors and polices everyone’s lives is excellently created and completely at odds with his more global cosmopolitan world view.
Straw Dogs is a movie which is hard to categories sitting somewhere between a slow burning social drama and nasty horror revenge movie. The film ups the tension early on until it boils over in the two most controversial and famous scenes of the movie both of which are as horrific and hard to watch as they ever where.
The nasty local’s who make up David’s bully boys are clichés its true however they are more rounded than the recent Inbred’s yokels and although their attitude and actions may not be understandable to the audience they are far more upsettingly realistic in context of the cruel characters and warped world they inhabit.
Whether you read it as a sadistic misogynistic wet dream, a symbolic psychological story about our inability to resist our primal urges, a rally for vigilantism, a metaphorical exploration of old world imperialism verses new liberal ideology, a moralistic masterpiece, a condemnation of all violence and its corruptibility on mankind or something else entirely Straw Dogs is an intense, important and challenging film which is guaranteed to have an impact on you once watched.