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