Drive and Straw Dogs

Blood work



Even before the opening credits roll, Drive takes off with a sensational gush of adrenaline. The movie's protagonist—identified only as "Driver," and played by Ryan Gosling—is working as the getaway wheelman for a couple of bumbling heist specialists. Pulling away from the scene of their botched robbery, he finds himself suddenly pursued by a herd of cops in patrol cars and helicopters, and in a beautifully constructed sequence he outfoxes them with iron nerve and an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets of L.A. As a total pro, he already has a personal exit plan worked out—a very clever one—and it's a treat to watch him bring it off.

The movie is a striking exercise in neo-noir style and compressed emotion goosed along with stabs of furious action, some of it shockingly violent. Gosling's self-sufficient inwardness echoes the nameless antiheroes in any number of earlier films, from the Eastwood spaghetti westerns to Two Lane Blacktop and, more nearly, Walter Hill's 1978 The Driver. His life is devoted entirely to automotive transport. He's a garage mechanic and a movie stunt driver with crime as a sideline. When Irene (Carey Mulligan), the young woman who lives down the hall in his dismal apartment building, asks what he does, he says, "I drive." And that really seems to be all.

His austere existence becomes dangerously complicated when his mentor, Shannon (Bryan Cranston)—the owner of the garage in which he works—comes up with a plan to buy a very expensive competition race car and install the driver behind the wheel for fortune and glory. Lacking the money to make this purchase, Shannon approaches a sleazy operator named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks in a chilling performance). Bernie agrees to fund Shannon's race-car dream, against the wishes of his vicious associate, Nino (Ron Perlman, equally alarming). In no time at all, things start going appallingly wrong.

Meanwhile, the driver is becoming emotionally entangled with Irene and her little boy, Benicio (Kaden Leos), whose father, a small-time criminal oddly named Standard (Oscar Isaac), is currently in prison. Upon his release, he gets the driver involved—along with an inscrutable woman named Blanche (Christina Hendricks)—in a pawn shop robbery that also goes very, very wrong.

Gosling, with a toothpick pasted to his lip, plays all of this with few words and even fewer facial expressions. He seems at times to be doing almost nothing, but he nevertheless conveys longing and contempt and rage using, for the most part, only his eyes. It's a performance of formidable control.

The Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) won the best-director award with this movie at the last Cannes Film Festival, and the honor seems deserved. He has a gift for velocity and has constructed a number of startlingly original action scenes. There's a horrifically bloody motel shootout, a sudden flash of grisly razor-play, and a ferocious assault in a strip-club dressing room—with topless women arrayed impassively all around—that might earn an admiring nod from David Lynch. The movie's devotion to the noir idiom is subtly satirical—although it might also pass, especially toward the end, as art-film pretentiousness. But the picture is excitingly ambitious, and whenever an untoward lull might seem to impend, Refn knows just when to hit the gas.             

Straw Dogs

Sam Peckinpah's 1971 Straw Dogs is a movie that cries out not to be remade. Even as an international movement for women's rights and revaluation was beginning to build (Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch had been published the year before), Peckinpah determined to make a case for male primacy and female insufficiency. His picture didn't just argue that a man must be prepared to use force in defense of his home and his woman (who can't be counted on in such a situation); it also asserted that only in such violence can he discover his true nature as a man. In the movie's most famous scene, a woman is brutally raped and halfway enjoys it: In the view of Peckinpah, who co-wrote the script, she was a tease who had been asking for it anyway.

Although hailed for its technical skill, the movie was also widely reviled at the time. Critic Pauline Kael, a Peckinpah champion, deplored the film's "sexual fascism." Peckinpah, she said, had "discovered the territorial imperative and wants to spread the Neanderthal word."

It's no surprise that in undertaking to remake Straw Dogs, director Rod Lurie realized that there was no way this story was going to fly today without some key adjustments. Unfortunately, these have further muddied Peckinpah's already murky motivational waters.

The original film centered on a liberal academic—in Peckinpah's estimation, a moral jellyfish—who had come to Cornwall with his English wife, a flighty sex kitten, to settle into her native village in order to write a book. In the new movie, the story has been relocated to a small town in Louisiana. The husband, David (James Marsden), is a liberal Hollywood screenwriter and his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth), is a successful TV actress. When David hires a local construction crew to repair the barn on Amy's ancestral property, the leader of these obvious louts turns out to be Amy's strapping high-school boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård).

Tensions immediately gather. Outside, the louts play loud redneck rock on their boombox, swamping David's tasteful classical music inside. They walk into the house unannounced to root in the fridge for beer. And when they see Amy out jogging in tight shorts, braless under her thin blouse, they make no attempt to conceal their loutish appreciation. Amy complains to David that the men were all but "licking my body." David says maybe she should wear a bra. Amy is indignant: "Are you saying I'm asking for this?"

Here we see Lurie, who wrote the script, attempting to dilute Peckinpah's hidebound misogyny. Amy is a modern woman, entitled to dress whatever way she wants. But then she next appears at an open upstairs window, where she purposefully draws the attention of the hayseeds outside and begins removing her clothes. The primal Peckinpah cannot be so easily subdued.

The director also bathes the story with a familiar Hollywood condescension about small-town Southerners and the guns, religion, and manly sports to which they so pathetically cling. At one point, a burly lout even snipes at David about "that global warming you educated guys keep talkin' about." This tendentious point-scoring is tiresome in the usual Tinseltown way.

David's refusal to confront the brutes who are invading his life is still unconvincing here, especially after an incident involving Amy's unfortunate cat. And while Lurie has adjusted the rape scene to remove the victim's apparent pleasure, it still makes no sense that she wouldn't tell her husband about such an assault—or, being a modern woman, call in the law herself. And an intertwined story thread, involving a mentally retarded man in the town and a 15-year-old girl who keeps trying to seduce him, is as implausible as ever.

The movie is perfectly well-made, with a rousing reprise of Peckinpah's home-invasion effects (the bear trap, the boiling liquid) and at least one new one (best use of a nail gun since The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest). And apart from James Woods, who has been directed to give an embarrassingly over-the-top performance as a frothing barroom troublemaker, the actors are fine, especially Skarsgård—the hunky vampire Eric on True Blood—whose sweet Southern politeness is entirely convincing, and carefully balanced against his character's glimmering, sinister lust. But Straw Dogs is a movie at war with itself; and you wonder why Lurie didn't just devise a similar story of his own, from which he might have eliminated Peckinpah's unconquerable machismo. When the smoke from the fiery final confrontation here clears, there's no question who the winner—although now long-dead—really is.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be out on November 8th from St. Martin's Press. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.


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  1. In the movie’s most famous scene, a woman is brutally raped and halfway enjoys it

    Halfway? When was the last time you saw the movie Loder?

    1. Women never completely enjoy sex…

      1. I’d guess Loder’s only exposure to the original flick is what’s in the press kit for the shitty remake.

    2. And she totally halfway enjoyed it.

    3. You’re an idiot–Loder is right. She appears to enjoy it when it is just her former boyfriend. Then when another lout joins in she plainly doesn’t enjoy it.

      1. Nonsense, she screams over the entire scene, she has traumatic flashbacks after it. There is nothing in the script that suggests this. The entire “she enjoyed the rape” meme is just as misconceived as Peckinpah’s perceived endorsement of violence. Both sensationalist accusations ignore the real message of the movie.

        1. Peckinpah also denied the accusations that she was enjoying it.

        2. Um, no. I watched the original in college with a bunch of friends, some of whom were aggressive feminists. During ‘that scene’, she’s clearly smiling and laughing, and I actually stoppped the film to ask everyone why she was enjoying it. I got a yelling dress-down from the feminists about how she must have ‘gone crazy’ at the moment. Real dumb explanation, but there’s no doubting the expression on her face or the director’s intent.

      2. Susan George: she had such lovely tits. They were obscenely beautiful even fully covered.

  2. a remake of a movie that cries out not to be remade.

    My extremely faint recollection of Straw Dogs is that it was utterly incoherent.

    1. It was pretty simple and coherent actually.

      1. I thought you were dead.

        1. Turn off the phone bitch

          1. I like how you come back and check your comments.
            That’s not narcissistic at all.

            1. Come back to what? This is the most recent thread you dumb bitch.

            2. Also, I really like how you come back to Reason even though you were blocked.
              That’s not pathetic at all.

              1. Also, my colon is blocked. But that doesn’t count.
                Also, it’s Thursday. I don’t reply to trolls on Thursday.

                1. Wait, is that still in effect?

                  1. Anyway, turn off the phone you dumb bitch or whoever you are, like I care.

                    1. So no answer, cunt? Just obsessive incoherent mockery? God you’re pathetic.

            3. Why wouldn’t a person who posts on a computer bulletin board NOT come back and check up on his posts? Wouldn’t you want to see what people might say in reply to you? Otherwise what would be the point in posting unless it’s to prompt a response.

              Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t strike me as narcissistic.

      2. I agree that the original was simple and coherent: (1) small-town dwellers are uniformly either louts or retarded; (2) an effete wimp intellectual with a shotgun can beat the armed louts at their own game; (3) women who come from small towns and marry wimp intellectuals are bitches and whores.

        Simple and coherent. Not true, of course, or plausible, but simple and coherent.

        1. I forgot (4) outsiders in a small town are fair game for exploitation and mockery.

  3. (Albert Brooks in a chilling performance)

    I’m sorry…after seeing Brooks role as Hank Scorpio I’m immune to further chilling!

    1. One of the best episodes ever.

      1. If I ever find a town with a hammock district, I’m moving there.

      2. My favorite.

  4. “Refn knows just when to hit the gas. “


  5. Cannot wait for Drive!

    Refn’s Pusher trilogy is very good and very entertaining.

  6. But Straw Dogs is a movie at war with itself… As it is, this is a movie at war with itself.

    I think this review might be at war with itself.

    1. Kind of idiotic. Thanks…

  7. Kurt come on, that Straw Dogs analysis is incredibly lazy. Just because a director depicts a certain behavior does not mean he is in agreement with or promoting that behavior. Peckinpah himself stated that Straw Dogs is an exploration of violent man, not an endorsement. When I saw the movie, I came to the same conclusion.

    In fact, the point of the movie can be seen in it’s title, which is a reference to Chinese ceremonial sacrifices. Straw dogs are forms without substance. Peckinpah is arguing that the civilized, peaceful facade of man does not reflect his true substance, which is animal-like. But this is not necessarily an endorsement of man’s violence and dominance.

    With regards to the remake, it is interesting because the “rapacious Southerners” plot was what Peckinpah had originally planned. After going over-schedule and over-budget on Cable Hogue, Warner Brothers wouldn’t work with him and he was forced to shoot in England and adapt the script accordingly. But yeah, Straw Dogs was perfect as it was, and this remake is insultingly unnecessary.

    1. the point of the movie can be seen in it’s title

      It is title?

      This remake is insultingly unnecessary

      Insulting to whom?
      “Unnecessary” by whose standards? Are you a gatekeeper?

      1. turn off the phone bitch

        1. +1

          Dumb bitch.

          1. Like I care about trolls.

            1. Have they banned her again, or are you replying to yourself?

              1. No that’s her. Check the email.

                1. Dude, the last post from her I can see was at 7:44pm. There are like 10 posts from you replying to yourself.

                  1. Check the email addresses of those posts. They say “”

                    1. Aha! Gotcha now.

      2. It’s insulting to Sam Peckinpah. But yeah, I’m not surprised you didn’t get it, dumbass.

    2. I thought that too. In the Wild Bunch Peckinpah was criticizing how American movies sanitized violence, not that he found it entertaining. On the contrary, he was supposedly troubled that aduiences found it entertaining rather than disturbing.

      Perhaps self-conscious of that, Straw Dogs is a brutal look at the nature of man and the liberating effect of violence. I recall one seen where the character David fires a gun for the first time, obviously linking it to a primal, sexual urge and awkening.

      1. I remember Sam Peckinpah talking about how his movies highlight the Hollywood tendency to glorify violence.

        I also noticed that he seemed to glorify violence pretty uniformly in his own movies, though.

        1. I mean, you don’t really think that the Peckinpah version of Straw Dogs was all that appealing to small-town audiences except as a kind of adventure story about a guy who takes a ration of crap and finally decides he’s had enough, do you?

          Remember, the Straw Dogs plot deals with a guy whose life has been placed at risk, not with Buford Pusser or somebody who just kicks butt because he’s sick and tired of bad guys being bad.

          1. For that matter, I’d bet my shorts that wimp intellectual audiences and their girlfriends watched it as a kind of adventure story, too, not just the small-town folks.

  8. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, Drive is currently at 93 percent positive. When I first saw the trailer a few weeks ago, I had it pegged as just another late-summer, by-the-numbers action thriller. Now I think I’ll to try to see it this weekend.

    Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to back when I thought it was just another late-summer, by-the-numbers action thriller.

    1. Finding a really good, visually impressive genre flick is like finding the holy grail these days. TV has picked up the slack though.

      1. TV has picked up the slack though.

        Picked up the slack in terms of what? Visually impressive action fare? I’m asking as someone who’s never seen an episode of CSI or Bones or NCIS or whatever the cool show du jour is, so I’m not being facetious. 🙂

        1. Quality genre entertainment:

          Breaking Bad
          The Wire
          Mad Men
          Sons of Anarchy


      2. It was visually impressive, but all style and no substance. Fruity synth pop over Ryan Gosling’s silent mug != intelligent movie. Story was shit, violence pointless. The quick change from taciturn boredom to outrageous action got old fast. 0/10

        1. Well, at least he’s silent.

          “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

        2. when we like something and you don’t, the problem is you.

          cry about it.

  9. gonna pass on straw dogs i love mississippi too much. seems to be southern bashing.

  10. Any action movie that isn’t all CGI and features some honest characterization is well-worth seeing. Not because of the value of the film in of itself, but because it’s so rare to see a Hollywood summer movie that does care about creating interesting characters.

    1. So far my impression is that this movie is a little overrated. It’s basically a higher-brow version of The Transporter. Same cliches and plot devices, with a shiny noir stylistic veneer.

      1. If the car chases/driving is CGI I have zero interest.

        1. How bad would it be if the movie about a stunt driver uses CGI for its car chases?

      2. Yes, the comparsion did come to mind, but The Transporter was a pretty good movie so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing (although I take it there aren’t any Asian sex slaves in this movie). Besides, the only summer movie I’ve seen this year was Crazy, Stupid, Love with my girlfriend, so I would like to enjoy a few hours of action at the movies that doesn’t insult my intelligence.

        When they attempt to turn this into a franchise then we’ll have a problem.

    1. OK, I laughed.

    2. I found that way funnier that I should have. Must be the cold medicine.

    3. That might have been funny if is was actually a good photoshop effort as opposed to something a 15-year fanboy would do arguing about the movie on the type of forum site that is apropos for that sort of thing.

    4. Except that it’s not a French director.

  11. second I saw The trailer for Straw Dogs, I said, “Great, more of LA, trying to make country folk look bad?” Hell I’m tired of people not believing that I’m from the Ozarks because I don’t have a “Southern Accent!” God that Pisses me Off!

    1. Squeal like a pig!

  12. Okay fellow Reasonoids and libertarians, let’s help turn this into an actual movie:

    1. let’s help turn this into an relaxing store:

    2. Looks like George Lucas did some more “re-releasing”

  13. Peckinpah’s movie is an insult to liberalism and to women. This movie sounds like it uses the same plot devices to insult conservatives, southerners, christians. However, the ultimate message is deeply right wing – eventually a man, no matter how liberal, must pick up a gun to defend family and home.

    1. That comment was an insult to intelligence.

    2. Did you think a man would ultimately have to pick up a BOOK to defend family and home?

      Sometimes reality IS “deeply right-wing”, whether liberals like it or not.

  14. Wow, I can’t believe it; I actually read a Pauline Kael comment on a movie that I fully agree with.

    In the new movie, do they reprise the hunting trip?

    1. The hunting scene is still there, but he’s hunting deer.

  15. How about Monstro the Trap? Is that in the new movie?

  16. I thought the original was bad. This sounds worse. The remake is rarely better. However, I was told once, they had already made ‘The Maltese Falcon’ two times, before John Huston finally got it right. They say the real difference was in the casting.

    Keeping all this in mind, I think ‘Dreamscrap’, would make a great remake. Because of computer effects. After watching ‘Inception’ a second time, it struck me what a great remake Hollywood could make out of ‘Dreamscape.’

    And I think it could be a lot better than ‘Inception.’ ‘Inception’ is to abstract, and over explained. It’s great to look at, but is one long explanation after another. The premise of ‘Dreamscape’ is simpler, more primordial. If you dream you die, do you die in life?

    The original had a great cast. My favorite performance was by Christopher Plummer. He played an evil man who was all too conscious he was evil, but still kept going, because he knew he was right.

    I just read Tony Scott is going to remake ‘The Warriors.’ I hope he keeps in mind, fun, fun, fun, is the key in putting across pulp fiction.

    Oh, and Tony, channel surfing only works when YOU have the remote, not when somebody else has that damn remote.

  17. Movie is set in Mississippi, because Lurie wanted a location where “violence is a way of life”. It was shot in Louisiana, murder capital of the US, because of tax rebates for film. Lurie’s a hack.

  18. I am really enjoy reading your great articles.

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