Strange as it may sound, there is something rather charming about the Straw Dogs of 1971. It’s dated, whilst some of the performances on show are typically English (well, of that era). Hammy. But this is not a criticism; far from it. Indeed the hamminess creates greater contrast to our bookish central character, which pays dividends, the climax having lost none of its impact.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a young married couple relocate from the States to a small English town. Amy Sumner is enthusiastic, it being her hometown, while David, a mathematician, is immediately uncomfortable amongst the working class locals. Alpha and beta males, they delight in their ridicule and intimidation of him, forcing his psychology into a submissive position, which only has one possible outcome: a snap, that leads to no return. To say anything further would kill it for you.
Dustin Hoffman is superb as the American fish out of water. A lesser actor would have portrayed more obvious, aggressive dominance in the violent climax, but this would be missing the point. David is naturally meek, and his defence of his home and principles does not make him less so; rather, it’s a compulsive, autopilot reaction. Hoffman portrays the resultant detachment of his character with ease, one simple line of dialogue — ‘Jesus, I got ’em all’ — demonstrating David’s awe at crossing a line he cannot hop back over. So subtle and yet speaking volumes, this tiny moment, if you’ll pardon my French, is just fucking beautiful. So is a long shot of the flailing net curtain after the first broken window, which creates the effect of a ghostly intrusion, a clear signal for David’s imminent mental shift.
Rather than wax lyrical for reams, I simply urge you to purchase Straw Dogs immediately. This 40th anniversary edition, hosting a plethora of extras, is surely one of the year’s most essential releases.
Straw Dogs is available on DVD and Blu-ray now