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Film Review: The Power of the Dog (2021)

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★★

Available on Netflix | Runtime: 2hrs 6mins


Jane Campion, the director who brought us unforgettable dramas like ‘The Piano’ returns after a 12 year hiatus from feature filmmaking, this time adapting the novel of the same name into a brooding, slow-burning character study set against the backdrop of the 1925 Montana ranch lands in ‘The Power of The Dog’.

Photo credit: Netflix

At the centre lies Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch), a charming but domineering, sharp-tongued cowboy who runs the family cattle ranch with his mild-mannered brother George (Jesse Plemons). When George unexpectedly marries a local widow Rose (Dunst) and brings her and her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to live at the ranch, Phil starts a relentless campaign of subtle torment and bullying of the new family members, while masking his own troubled past and repressed emotions.


The actors dive head first into the depths of their characters: Cumberbatch is unrecognisable as the gruff, intimidating Phil who spits out insults behind a wry, crooked grin but also shows vulnerability in private moments. Meanwhile Dunst is heartbreaking as Rose, struggling with alcoholism and the hostility of her new home.


But the real standout is Smit-McPhee in a subdued but intense performance as the bullied Peter, who turns the tables on Phil in the third act leading up to the inevitable confrontation between the two.


With its commentary on toxic masculinity and repression set in the gorgeous Montana plains captured vividly by cinematographer Ari Wegner, ‘The Power of The Dog’ rewards patient viewers with an emotionally satisfying tale brought to life by the committed performances.


While the many hidden layers of the plot can be overwhelming, the exerting energy required of the viewer pays dividends in the end, like completing a hike up to a summit with sweeping views. And Campion shows she still has what it takes to craft affecting dramas after all this time.




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