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Monday, April 30, 2012 

Film review: Straightheads.

(Major, major spoilers ahead. But seeing as the film came out five years ago and it's terrible and no one should see it I don't think it's going to matter.)

Or, as it should be known, Danny Dyer's Straw Dogs. Would anyone ever want to see Straw Dogs, as remade with Danny Dyer? No, thought not. So they called it Straightheads instead, which is a nonsensical, meaningless title. Is it implying that the two leads are otherwise completely straight, and that the crime that befalls them and leads to their response is the only extraordinary thing that happens? Frankly, who knows. The film itself certainly doesn't clear anything up, in every sense.

Made according to the IMDB for around £1.8 million, and you have to suspect the vast majority of that went on pay, Straightheads is another of those awful films which the UK Film Council saw the script for and somehow decided was worth funding. It must also rank as the worst decision of Gillian Anderson's career, as she is horribly miscast as the City worker Alice. Danny Dyer is Adam, a working class CCTV installer, hired by Alice.

From the very beginning the problems are glaring. Alice comes home to find Adam asleep on her patio, which with most people wouldn't go down well. Rather than getting him to show her the basics of the system he's installed and then shoving him out the door as soon as possible, she instead decides to take an immediate shower. Quite why she's having the system installed in the first place is unclear; as usual in films, the house/apartment/whatever is all but immaculate, she doesn't have children, and there doesn't seem to be anything obvious worth stealing. It does though provide Adam with the opportunity to spy on this gorgeous older woman getting undressed, and the implication is that Alice doesn't mind, or if she does, the fact that he's installed this voyeurism device has slipped her mind within seconds. Indeed, she doesn't seem to decide what to do next until she's in the shower.

Suitably refreshed, she returns while Adam is still replaying the images of her getting semi-naked. It's really difficult to get beyond the idea that the only reason the film exists is because it features Gillian Anderson, aka Agent Scully aka a 90s schoolboy's wet dream in a couple of scenes of partial nudity. It's also clearly playing on Anderson's mind or she was getting second thoughts as her performance is all over the place. Anderson has said in the past that she's one of those people whose accent adjusts according to where she is, hence why in The X-Files she sounds American while back here she speaks with a distinctly English twang. This makes her voice in Straightheads all the odder: it doesn't sound how she normally does anywhere; it's as though she's trying to sound slightly sultry and yet instead it just comes out as slightly head girl of a public school.

Equally, we don't get any insight whatsoever into how or why Alice might find Adam attractive. Inviting him along to a work party, although we first have to go through a car scene which involves them getting lost in the country, Alice mentioning that she grew up near where they are, which is important for later, and her getting out to urinate for no reason whatsoever (it's also worth noting that Alice appears to have a large skull tattoo on her inner right arm which you never get to see properly, suggesting that it was an allusion to how she's not this completely straightlaced City worker which they later thought better of), the only slight nod to how this might not be Alice's first younger man is that her boss finds Adam's age (23) to be fitfully amusing. Any wider comment on the mismatch between the two both in terms of class and age is quickly dispensed with for a sex scene, conducted on the very edge of the woods near to the house.

The coitus out of the way, the rape revenge must duly begin. It starts in time honoured fashion, as an ageing Land Rover driving slowly along a country road blocks their process home. Rather than just simply overtaking, they have to tail-gate, drive alongside and let the horn off, before Adam declares them to be onanists as they finally go by. Can anyone guess what happens next? Yes, they of course run straight into a stag. They can't just leave it in the middle of the road though, they have to drag it to the side and Adam, being this tough geezer, simply must adminster the coup de grace. At which point our friends in the Land Rover pull up, adminster a brutal beating to Adam, and then despite her attempts to escape, hold down and rape Alice.

If you thought the acting had been bad prior to this point, then here's where it really enters a whole new realm of awful. As well as blinding him in one eye, the attack also leaves Adam impotent, to the point where he can't even manage to get it up to squeeze one out to his first sight of Alice getting undressed. For some reason he decides to masturbate in front of a mirror, although happily we don't get to see Dyer's member, just his face as he tries desperately to show his sexual frustration and instead just scrunches it up. Just as he fails to spark, so the chemistry between Alice and Adam, as little as there was at first completely dissipates. Why are they still together? Didn't perhaps the whole unpleasant incident suggest their affair wasn't the best idea? Obviously not.

As this is a rape revenge/vigilante film, there has to be an explanation as to why they haven't gone to the police. It turns out that they have, although as Alice explains to her boss, it's "only" a GBH and so they don't seem interested. While in similar films the police are ignored or insulted as being too politically correct, generally useless or corrupt themselves, here it might well have helped if SHE'D REPORTED SHE HAD BEEN RAPED AS WELL. If you're going to do this sort of film, either keep the police out of it altogether (as in I Spit on Your Grave, which is the Citizen Kane of rape/revenge compared to this despite its numerous flaws), or make it clear they're not going to do anything for such and such a reason, not that won't because they didn't tell the police everything that happened.

In the most extraordinary of coincidences, her old man chose her time off to recover to kick the bucket, and apparently uncontactable, the funeral has already took place. She travels out to his house, which as we've established is near to where the party was, only on her way back to almost drive straight into a pack of horse-riders. One angrily berates her, and what do you know, she recognises his voice! Quick as flash, she asks the last rider what his name was, apologising, and so the revenge is set creaking into motion.

Amazingly, it gets even more nonsensical. Turns out that Alice's dad was a soldier, that he taught her to shoot as a girl, and he just happens to have left a sniper rifle behind. He believed in getting even, and so it seems does Alice. Dyer, despite being the atypical wideboy who subsequently was to suggest in a Zoo column that a jilted boyfriend should disfigure his former lover as a way of getting over the end of the relationship (he was misquoted, he says), isn't so sure, although Dyer is so unconvincing, even as he clears a table in the theatrical way which signifies his angst, that you just know that the roles are subsequently going to be reversed.

Before we get to the denouement, there has to be another character placed in the plot to make the entire enterprise seem slightly more complicated than it actually is. After disposing of the dog of one of the rapists with the rifle, the body of which Adam drags away without leaving behind a tell-tale trail of blood, we discover that he has a teenage daughter (Sophie) as she comes out the house calling for it. Their revenge plan still goes ahead however, which has to involve Adam installing an apparently unnoticeable security camera system in the house. All the while he's doing this Sophie must have been in her room and didn't hear him, as once the rapists return just as he's finished he hides in there. As the other two men also apparently have eyes for her, she is just about convinced not to scream as Adam comes in and places his hand over her mouth. For some reason though this seems to have excited Adam sufficiently for him to attempt to force himself on her, in what must be one of those most ill-advised and ill-thought through scenes in such a film. If this is meant to make his character more ambiguous, or to underline the effect the assault had on him, then it achieves neither; it just makes you dislike him even more intensely.

Next morning, Adam having escaped in the same way as Sophie did from his clutches, Alice hears (Adam must have put microphones in as well) the sound of a car engine going constantly on the feed. Determined that she won't be denied her revenge by a suicide, she charges to the house and pulls him out. Apparently not recognising her as he struggles to breathe, he thanks her for saving him from a mistake and begins to explain why he was trying to kill himself. Turns out that on the night of the rape they too had been driving home from a party, only for them to spot his daughter out at 4 in the morning too, walking by the side of the road. Knowing that his friends would try to force themselves onto her if they all drove home, he created a "diversion" with Alice and Adam. While the other two were kicking seven bells out of him, he got Sophie out of the Land Rover. Having not had enough unpleasant sexual assaults so far in the film, we then return again to the rape of Alice, entirely gratuitously.

All that remains to be said is that the revenge which follows, such as it is, is completely unsatisfying. A rifle and an anus is involved, Alice doesn't want to shoot as well as thrust to Adam's dismay as she doesn't explain that she was raped in part to save his daughter from that exact fate, Adam then literally decides upon an eye for an eye, the two others turn up and are swiftly despatched and that's that. The film minus credits lasts exactly 72 minutes, and those 72 minutes are some of the least rewarding, worst acted and most misguided you're likely to see for quite some time. It says something about a film when by far the best scene is left on the cutting room floor, as the deleted scenes prove: one of the rapists, played by Ralph Brown in the only decent performance in the film, dances in the living room with Sophie's father. It shows the chilling power he has over the others and hints at how with better writing, proper direction and different actors in the two main parts the film could have been a competent, low-budget British film, nasty certainly but worthwhile. Instead it's a blot on Gillian Anderson's resume and Danny Dyer can boast that he simulated intercourse with 1996's Sexiest Woman in the World.

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