It was a different era, a different time in American culture.

Sam Peckinpah's 1971 "Straw Dogs" arguably has become a classic. It was a controversial film when it was released because of its depiction of a sexual assault. This was only three years after the Hays Code, actually the Motion Picture Production Code, changed to a film rating system that has changed over the years but remains the industry standard.

Under the Hays Code, which set the parameters for censorship, directors generally had to adapt to the guidelines that spelled out what was taboo. After the rating system was set, movies exploded with violent imagery that previously had been unacceptable or had been the sort of film released for drive-in audiences.

This is an update of the movie that starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. This time around, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are the couple who must come to terms with the meaning of violence and cowardice, as well as the choices they have made in the past. The show is set in the United States instead of England, and David (Marsden) is a screenwriter instead of a mathematician.

She is coming home. But he is arriving in a small community where masculinity and all its pursuits are what matters. And Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), Amy's ex from years before, takes an immediate dislike to David.

David tries to be friendly, and hires Charlie and his tough-guy pals to roof his barn. Their bullying of David and Amy begins slowly and subtly - they walk into their home uninvited to grab beers from the refrigerator, for example. And they begin to work whenever they please, taking plenty of time off for hunting and other pursuits.

Amy thinks that David should put a stop to the annoyances, but he does not want to be confrontational, despite the ever-escalating violence.

Of the characters, Charlie is the most interesting and, not surprising from his role in television's "True Blood," always is the most sinister. In a secondary role, James Woods is bone-chilling as the drunken ex-coach with a penchant for brutality.

It's a disturbing movie. But, simply because of the way films and audiences have changed in the last 40 years, it's not as shocking as its 1971 ancestor.

 

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