Film Review – The Power of the Dog (2021)

Title – The Power of the Dog (2021) 

Director – Jane Campion (The Piano) 

Cast – Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirstin Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Plot – In 1925 Montana, ranching brothers the Burbanks, the volatile Phil (Cumberbatch) and softly spoken George (Plemons), find their lives upturned by the marriage of George to widow Rose (Dunst) and her teenage son and outsider Peter (Smit-McPhee).  

“Man was made by patience in the odds against him”

Review by Eddie on 03/12/2021

If you’re like me and knew very little about Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel on which New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion’s newest film is based upon, it’s very likely that Netflix’s The Power of the Dog will become one of the year’s most unsettling and unnerving film watching experiences for the unsuspecting viewer. 

An on face value familiar western like set up centered around Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Jesse Plemons Montana ranching brothers Phil and George Burbank, polar opposites who find their paths diverging further when George marries Kirstin Dunst’s Rose Gorden whose teenage child Peter is an odd one out in a very masculine fueled landscape, this 1925 set drama is a feverishly nightmarish vision of time, place and characters that slow burns its way into your subconscious that leads you too one of the years most memorable finales. 

Her first feature film since 2009’s rather forgettable Bright Star (with the magnificent first season of Top of the Lake in between), the Oscar winning Campion has a field day exploring the fractured psyche of her lead four piece against the picturesque backdrop of Montana (in fact the director’s home country) with the examination of Cumberbatch’s at times detestable and other times sad Phil and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Peter key to what type of ominous and unexpected vibes the film establishes in its second half as the initial focus around George and Rose fades into the background. 

What at first appears to be a relatively straight forward narrative of warring brothers becoming divided over one another’s priorities, with Phil obsessed with the grunt work of everyday farming life and his memories of the brothers mentor Bronco Henry while being content to live a solitary banjo playing/mud path taking existence and George keener to wine and dine with governor’s and ensure his wife has a fine piano, Dog slowly but surely morphs into something else entirely that may alienate some viewers and captivate others with a tone not to dissimilar to classic oil drama There Will be Blood

Not everything clicks in Campion’s odd, at times frustrating and other times captivating tale, with the characters of George and Rose feeling only ever half-explored at best with Plemon’s in particular given short shift once the half way mark of the film rolls around but when this beautifully shot and scored film hits its mark and the award worthy performances of Cumberbatch and McPhee (both arguably never better) take hold, there’s a unique power in Campion’s feature that will cause it too linger long in the memory as you dissect its many themes and angles. 

Arguably Netflix’s greatest chance at securing pieces of Oscar glory at the upcoming awards season, it’s hard too know exactly where Dog may sit in the conversation months down the track but whatever may end up being the case, its great to see Campion back behind the camera again and creating incendiary works that established her as one of the most influential directing voices of the 90’s. 

Final Say – 

A far from stereotypical western that is challenging, confronting, nightmarish and undeniably bizarre, The Power of the Dog won’t be for everyone but when the dust settles after its credits have rolled, it becomes a film that is hard to shake from your thoughts. 

4 rose petals out of 5 

18 responses to “Film Review – The Power of the Dog (2021)

  1. I just saw this tonight on the big screen, and it’s potentially my favorite film of 2021.

    I didn’t know what to expect going in, except that it’s Cumberbatch’s best performance of his career, but that doesn’t do justice to how good it is. I’d never expect him to play a character that’s domineering, nasty, and so virulently and toxicly masculine as Phil Burbank. This movie should be seen for his performance alone.

    I do agree with his Plemons and Dunst become out of focus as the film goes on, but this movie was an entrancing slow burn. Going to write up my own review pretty soon, but I definitely want to watch this again.

    I’m writing up my own review

    • Be keen to read your thoughts mate.

      It’s a film that lingers long in the memory. I had very little knowledge about where it was going and the themes it dealt with heading in but I was very happy to go along for the ride.

      • And I have finally gotten my own review of it up as well. You can check it out here

        Took me awhile to get it up because my laptop is in the shop and I have to rely on my old MacBook to write my reviews.

  2. I hated every minute of it. I hate the awkwardness of Jesse Plemons and I don’t know why his particular brand of awkwardness is so popular right now. Benedict played his part well but he just made me feel uncomfortable, and that’s ok if there’s a reason why the film maker wants to make you feel uncomfortable like in the case of 12 Years a Slave but in this case I just found him completely unlikeable, a bully and abusive. I felt like the whole thing was really pretentious and contrived.

    • I don’t think you will be the only one that feels this way Tang.
      I must admit there were large portions of the film where I wasn’t sure where I was liking it but as it all made itself clearer I found myself haunted by what the film ended up being about.
      It’s stunningly well shot to.

  3. I have to say, I’m with a previous comment that I hated (nearly) every moment, at least once the film got underway. The opening parts were intriguing enough and the cinematography quite captivating, but I got lost so many times with what seemed like Wes Anderson-like pointlessness that I have to admit I actually snoozed for several minutes at various times. Of course, one can’t really be objective about a movie you’re missing pieces of, but from what my viewing partner said, I didn’t miss all that much. And, for further “of course,” if one is a Wes fan, apologies because my reference won’t make much sense I guess. As Ima says, the visuals pulled me in, but the narrative went back and forth between annoying me and just confusing me.

    • It’s going to be a very divissive film overall I think. I can see it playing a big part in the upcoming awards season but will be interesting to see how its regarded over the coming years.

  4. I walked out. I just got so bored. This seemed like just so obvious Oscar-bait for Cumberbatch with shades of Heaven’s Gate with scholars who go out west and discover it’s a hard life. I liked Jesse Plemons’ uncomfortable character more than the obvious bully. And it was fairly clear it was filmed about 10,000 miles away from the Old West.

      • I suspect it has a very good chance of winning something. I have spoken to others who enjoyed it but for me it was not for me and I can count on one hand the number of times I have left a film before the end in the cinema.

  5. Pingback: The Best & Worst of 2021 | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  6. That’s a shot for me. Magnificent landscape (yes far of the old West but that was the case for Leone’s westerns too and they are so good), intense playing, Cumberbtach and McPhee are really incredible.
    This dog is still barking in my mind.

  7. Pingback: 2022 Oscar Predictions | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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