The Power of the Dog (Drama, Western) [Based on a Novel] (2021)
Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Jane Campion, Thomas Savage (Based on Novel by)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee
On a ranch somewhere in Montana, brothers Phil and George stand at odds. As one tries to be the leader of a group of cowboys, the other embraces a more fully-developed life going with the times and searching for a follow-up to the life he’s been living.
Written and directed by Jane Campion, ‘’The Power of the Dog’’ seems very much to align with her interests in filmmaking, as seen in her previous films ‘’The Piano’’ and ‘’Bright Star’’. This project came about due to receiving a copy of Savage’s book after Campion wrapped up production of her latest television series ‘’Top of the Lake’’.
More like a bleak drama other than the action-packed westerns we usually see, ‘’The Power of the Dog’’ has a tenacity in being as earnestly realistic as it can be. Filmed on the South Island of New Zealand, it seems to perfectly translate to the barren plains of Montana, where the film should’ve taken place if not for financial and pandemic related issues. Still, both cinematographically and performance-wise, it fits together.
There’s a hidden meaning and an over-arching shadow hanging above this valley, with Cumberbatch playing Phil, a brash and commanding figure trying to apply dominance over his pack of figurative wolves herding cattle. An attitude he’s adopted from his old friend and mentor Bronco Henry, who’s long gone from this world. Brother George seems to be the polar opposite, a kind-hearted figure more in-line with modern developments and technology trying to make sure everyone is comfortable. For some reason, Cumberbatch’s character was reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey or at least someone his fellow actor would play, which should be said is a compliment to both actors but mainly to Benedict Cumberbatch’s wide range.
‘’The Power of the Dog’’ shows a landscape that reminds you of the old west while it’s slowly making a place for new-age innovations. It seems to arrive at a perfect time, where westerns aren’t as typical anymore. More of an arthouse project than a feature film, it’s certainly not something that will appeal to all audiences, but those lovers of cinema that would be reading reviews such as this would certainly get a kick out of the different types of storytelling portrayed here.
If it is an old-fashioned western you’re interested in, look elsewhere, but when searching for a tender and just incredibly human tale that moves as slow as a breeze, this might be your type of cinema. It’s genuinely an excellently pictured interpretation of Savage’s work displaying characters with deep flaws trying to appear differently from their inner selves.
Barking dogs never bite.