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Straw Dogs
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Genre:Thriller
Year:1971
Rating:R
Length:1h 57mins
Cast:Sam Peckinpah, Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan

No matter which way you slice it, Straw Dogs is not for the squeamish. Only two films after, but light years away from, the elegiac Wild Bunch, the movie upped the ante in director Sam Peckinpah's career. It remains one of his leanest, most brutal movies. Dustin Hoffman is David Sumner, a taciturn mathematician who, with his wife, Amy (Susan George), relocates to her Cornish home village to escape the American rat race. The couple hires four locals to build a garage for their old cottage, and it isn't long before David becomes the object of the crew's resentment and mockery. Led by Charlie (Del Henney), one of Amy's former suitors, the townies shamelessly ogle Amy, who at times seems to encourage their attentions, if only because her husband is more involved in math problems. During a hunting trip, David tries to win over the local boys and lets on that he knows their intentions; but the ruffians leave him behind, return to the cottage, and -- in a brilliantly edited but disturbing scene -- rape Amy. This sets the stage for the film's mind-bending and violent climax, during which, in an attempt to avenge another act of violence, drunken villagers all but destroy the Sumner cottage. The traps, both moral and physical, that David devises implicate the viewer in ways that might even make Hitchcock flinch. Never mind that it borders on nihilism -- this is electrifying stuff. Hoffman's nutty evolution, from mousy gestures straight out of The Graduate to calculated Peckinpah violence, is alone worth the price of admission. Eddy Crouse

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