Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
The Power of the Dog is a film critic’s dream and an audience’s disappointment. The film is a slow-burn western full of subtle themes that unravel throughout very well-written character arcs and character-focused narrative.
The film focuses on Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Phil Burbank. After his brother George (Jesse Plemons), meets a woman, Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), and brings her home along with her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil starts to reflect on his situation after struggling to accept her at home. Peter seems to be homosexual, and Phil starts reconnecting his repressed sexuality when he comes close to him. Throughout the movie, Phil recounts his past with a man named Bronco Henry, it is never fully explained who he was but with subtle hints, the audience is able to put two and two together.
The film was released on Netflix on Dec. 1 after its limited theatrical release in November in both Australia and New Zealand. Director Jane Campion has been praised by critics for the job she did on this movie, with the film currently sitting at a 96 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience score, however, is only at 67 per cent. Why the discrepancy?
Well, while this movie might check off all the boxes for critics, for your average movie watching audience, it’s a bit of a bore. There are many slow-burn movies that are still entertaining, but not The Power of the Dog. While it is beautifully set up, and the actors absolutely fit their roles, this movie failed to capitalize on its build-up. Of course, this is what the movie aimed to do, it was never intended to be an action western like The Harder they Fall, and it’s important not to have that expectation going into it.
The costume and set design are outstanding; they truly transport the audience back to 1925. The landscapes in the movie are out of a painting, the atmosphere set in the movie is one of the recent best in a western. Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast did a phenomenal job (never did I think I would see Cumberbatch in a western sporting a southern accent and making it work and yet, here we are). The audience got to see the actor extend his range and step out of his comfort zone in this one.
The cast is noteworthy as each of them plays their roles very convincingly. Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee all do just as phenomenal a job as Cumberbatch. The chemistry between these four is the core of the movie. Not to mention Thomasin Mckenzie and Frances Conroy, who had smaller roles but still managed to make an impact on screen.
On top of the performances, the characters were all written very well also, with Phil standing out as the best-written of the bunch. While Phil starts off as a very rude and unsympathetic character, over the course of the film we learn that he is deeply troubled and insecure, as he tries to repress his sexuality in a very macho and conservative environment.
Overall, it’s not a movie for everyone. If you are looking for a more action-filled Western, The Harder they Fall is a better option, but if you’re looking for a more character-focused narrative then you might enjoy this movie.