The Power of the Dog, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, is a drama film directed by Jane Campion, who formerly directed The Piano (1993)that won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film has Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee starring in various roles. With a running time of 126 minutes, the film bagged the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the 78th Venice International Film Festival. The film was released in theatres in Australia and New Zealand on November 11, 2021, and then in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 1.
The audio is originally in English with English subtitles. The synopsis of The Power of the Dog on Netflix reads, “A domineering but charismatic rancher wages a war of intimidation on his brother’s new wife and her teen son — until long-hidden secrets come to light.” The film is internationally co-produced by New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.
– The Power of the Dog review contains mild spoilers –
The story starts in Montana in the year 1925, with a voiceover. There’s an abundance of old western elements on-screen— cattle, ranches, cowboy hats, leather and old wooden staircases that creak when walked on. The film deserves a huge applause for the intense cinematography itself— the fields and rough landscape of New Zealand perfectly captured and utilised for the sake of the film. The film tells an unusually surprising story regarding the lives of two brothers, Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (played by Jesse Plemons).
In The Power of the Dog, the lives and personality disposition of the two siblings are portrayed as a juxtaposition, Phil is the unforgivable “alpha” male whereas George is the more docile and accommodating brother. The stark differences in their characters are made obvious by their interactions with humans and animals. Phil uses mud to cleanse himself whereas George wears a blazer to ride a horse. However, the relationship between the brothers, despite the incompatibility, raises a few interesting questions. They share the same bed and live under the same roof.
The Power of the Dog takes quite an interesting turn with the introduction of Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon, the widowed owner of a diner. Rose has another identity too, she is the mother of Peter Gordon, a seemingly “effeminate” shy boy. Initially, Phil’s demeanour towards Peter is quite hostile – he burns his handmade flowers and openly mocks his lisp and feminine presence. Peter is, in fact, portrayed as the Un-Phil – he is everything that Phil is not. However, as The Power of the Dog proceeds, the dynamic between Phil and Peter is seen shifting.
The film relies on imagery and close-up shots to portray emotions that words cannot summon. The landscape and the imagery of the ranch often feel like a looming ghost. It sees, hears and experiences things that human beings are too petty to understand. There is also a continued mention of Bronco Henry, the late mentor of Phil and George who taught them the ways to operate the ranch. Phil’s obsession with Bronco Henry sometimes feels like an obsession, to the point where the viewer is often led to believe that their relationship was not strictly platonic.
Summing up, The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog is a cruel film. It is a film that exposes the cruelty of the West and the cruelty with which human beings tries to hide their true selves. The human dynamics is wonderfully shown throughout the film, often through non-human elements. The Power of the Dog ultimately deals with how the externalities of the world are too harsh on inherently intimate dynamics and how the façade that human beings maintain to be accepted can often lead to their own deaths.
The Power of the Dog is now streaming on Netflix.Instagram & Facebook to keep yourself updated with the latest news and reviews.