Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: Animal cruelty & content that may disturb
Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank
Kirsten Dunst as Rose Gordon
Jesse Plemons as George Burbank
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon
Thomasin McKenzie as Lola
Genevieve Lemon as Mrs. Lewis
Keith Carradine as Governor Edward
Frances Conroy as Old Lady
Director: Jane Campion
A domineering rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) responds with mocking cruelty when his brother (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), until the unexpected comes to pass.
I was lucky enough to catch The Power of the Dog in cinemas. I hadn’t seen any movies from director Jane Campion beforehand, but I knew of some of her work like with The Piano and Top of the Lake, and this would be her return to making movies. It also has a great cast with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons so that was enough to get me interested. I watched a teaser of the film, otherwise I went in fairly blind. It had a lot of anticipation leading up to its release, and having seen it I can say that its well-earned.
The first thing you need to know going into The Power of the Dog is that it is a slow burn, and I can see that really turning people off. In fact, when it does premiere on Netflix, I can easily see people turning it off after the first 20 minutes. The film does take a while to really reveal what the story really is about. I think it earns its over 2 hours runtime and pacing however, everything flows naturally and there’s a lot of attention to detail. Campion is less interested in plot than layered character dynamics, it is definitely more of a character study than a western. It is deeply complex in its characters and themes, with toxic masculinity and repressed desire being very much the leading themes, especially with the lead character. It has an effectively dreadful, unnerving and haunting atmosphere throughout, and only builds up tension even more as the film progresses. It comes together by the end in a very rewarding way with its ending.
The acting from this talented cast is fantastic as expected. First of all, this is basically Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie, and very likely his best performance yet. In the complex lead role of Phil Burbank, despite initially coming across as one note, Cumberbatch pulls off the subtle nuances of this character. This is the darkest that Cumberbatch has acted in a role, but its more than that, the journey his character goes on is unexpected. While at first it feels like he overshadows the other actors, the rest of the cast are great too. Kirsten Dunst gives a very subtle and internalised performance, playing a woman who is pushed to high levels of distress. One of her best performances. Jesse Plemons as usual is reliably good, though he does sort of disappear into the background after the first act. Kodi Smit-McPhee is great here, probably the best performance I’ve seen from him. He gets a lot of screentime in the second half, and you really see his progression over the course of the movie. His quiet and reserved character of Peter takes an interest in Cumberbatch’s Phil, and the scenes between the two are captivating. There are other brief appearances from other actors like Thomasin McKenzie too, who are also good in their scenes.
Jane Campion directs this film excellently. There is some beautiful cinematography from Ari Wegner, taking advantage of the gorgeous location and landscapes they are filming at. At the same time, it does well at capturing the intimacy and tension of certain scenes, especially with the close ups. Jonny Greenwood’s score is amazing and practically its own character, it really adds to the tension and unsettling feeling, helping to draw you into the film.
The Power of the Dog is a steadily paced, visually gorgeous, complex and gripping character drama. It’s excellently directed and has great performances from its ensemble cast, especially from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. After watching this, I really want to check out more of Jane Campion’s work. The Power of the Dog is one of the best movies of the year thus far.