Title: The Power of the Dog

Year: 2021

Genre: Drama | Romance | Western | 

Runtime: 126 min

Director:  Jane Campion

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst


Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil Burbank is brutally beguiling. All of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and in the land: He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud. He is a cowboy as raw as his hides. The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana. At the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose, the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable son Peter. Phil behaves so cruelly he drives them both to tears, revelling in their hurt and rousing his fellow cowhands to laughter – all except his brother George, who comforts Rose then returns to marry her. As Phil swings between fury and cunning, his taunting of Rose takes an eerie form – he hovers at the edges of her vision, whistling a tune she can no longer play. His mockery of her son is more overt, amplified by the cheering of Phil’s cowhand disciples. Then Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this latest gesture a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot-twisting further into menace? 

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As foreseen as a spiky rancher, Benedict’s incarnation of the Phil is a solid performance. Sure, it’s not his best one yet, but it’s a stable one at least. His journey goes from a mean, arrogant rancher up to the moment it’s revealed of his own homosexuality by the third act. He has a slow journey to becoming a compassionate man to the last breath. His death comes without further explanation and doesn’t really give any concrete details of the sudden demise.

Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst aka Rose and George play the married couple that come over to Phil’s farm. They’ve their son Peter with them, who comes from Rose’s former marriage. The relationship is a bit of a struggle to understand by the first glancing. The film is odd and the tone of the film. It’s not a happy or something that aims to cheer the audience up. It’s a slow-burn character-driven feature film that doesn’t really explain a lot of the background of these characters.

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The best part of the movie is the close-up feeling, the feeling of enactment that keeps the story on hold throughout the film. But the loose end and the boring, untidy feeling that this plot gives doesn’t impress at all. The story and the acting are good enough, but the slow bit is overwhelming to give this film a shot for viewing. Even if Jane Campion tries desperately to keep the story engaging, nothing meaningful is really presented during this two-hour movie.


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