Review: The Power Of The Dog

Today I will be reviewing The Power Of The Dog. Jane Campion‘s slow burning Western released in December 2021 on Netflix. The film was well received by critics and garnered 10 Oscar nominations at this year’s ceremony. It only went on to win in one category with Jane Campion taking the coveted Best Director award. Based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, the source material for this was very strong. I must admit I hadn’t read the book and had little knowledge of what to expect going in. So here are my thoughts.

One of the first things that strikes you about this film is the impressive cinematography and visual aspect. It looks beautiful. Large imposing landscapes with stark looking mountains and plains. The story is set in 1925, on a cattle ranch in the mid-West. It centres around two quite different brothers. Benedict Cumberbatch‘s rough, uncompromising and sometimes cruel Phil. Contrasted by Jesse Plemons‘ quiet, considered and caring George. The two brothers run the ranch and even share a bedroom as we see early on. Their relationship is obviously close but not untroubled. Phil often calling his brother “fatso” and other derogatory names. There is a tension right from the start.

This tension is accelerated when George meets Kirtsen Dunst‘s Rose and goes on to marry her quite early into the film. Much to Phil’s disdain, he moves her onto the ranch and things begin to change. The film boasts an ensemble cast with the likes of Thomasin McKenzie in a small supporting roll. She really impressed me in JoJo Rabbit and more recently Last Night In Soho, so I hoped she’d have a little more to do here but it’s really a limited role. Phil believes Rose to be a gold digger only interested in George’s money and estate. A point he makes clear to his brother and in his every interaction with Rose. The foreboding tone increases as Rose brings her son Peter (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) to live on the ranch as well. A sensitive boy who makes paper flowers who is labelled “pansy” and other slurs by Phil and the other ranchers. After a more than rocky start Phil begins to warm to Peter and the story develops. We realise there may be more to Phil than his brash outer manner indicates. He is making a rope for Peter and tries to teach him to ride a horse. The rope felt like it had some symbolism because we learn that Peter’s father, Rose’s ex-husband, hung himself and left her widowed.

I will leave the exploration of the plot there because there’s plenty more to see and I don’t want to spoil the experience if you intend to watch this film. I will however say that I found the ending a little sudden and unsatisfying. It doesn’t go where you think it will. This may be due to the slow moving pace of the story and overall feel.

The film’s ponderous pace will not appeal to some viewers and despite the positive critical reception, I have seen some very poor reviews on various websites. There is not much action to get your teeth into that’s fair to say. The film is split into chapters and this may be an homage to the book which may in itself have a slow pace the director is trying to stay true to.

One aspect of the production that works really well is Jonny Greenwood‘s score. At times the discordant tones and subtle guitar picking adds to the tension beautifully. Whoever did the banjo playing for Benedict Cumberbatch’s character certainly deserves a lot of credit.

While I can see the technical excellence of this film, the panning shots, the imposing scenery and music. I am afraid to say it didn’t really grab me. Over a couple of hours I found it dragged a lot and failed to engage me at points. The performances are strong and the cast well chosen. I thought Cumberbatch’s ability to show toughness and extreme vulnerability at the same time was particularly good. All the pieces are in place but somehow this just didn’t feel like it added up to what I expected. It’s fair to say I hoped for a little more.

Overall Rating: 3/5

It’s certainly not 2 hours wasted, as some of the reviews claim, but I think this film will appeal best to cinephiles and possibly fans of the book. If you want something light and pacy this is certainly not for you. You’ve been warned. It’s currently available to watch through Netflix in the UK. Other countries may vary.

Thank you for reading this review, I hope you enjoyed it. I’m not certain what film I’ll review next but probably a newer release from the cinema. If you have requests or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment, or contact me via Twitter, whichever is easiest.

Have you seen The Power Of The Dog? What are your thoughts on it? Comments welcome.

Until next time, take care of yourselves,

Dan

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