Home The Power Of The Dog

The Power Of The Dog (12A)

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Kirsten Dunst, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons, Keith Carradine
Genre: Western
Author(s): Jane Campion
Director: Jane Campion
Release Date: 19/11/2021 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 127mins
Country: UK/Australia/US/NZ/Can
Year: 2021

Phil Burbank and brother George run a successful ranch in 1925 Montana. The siblings are cut from wildly different hides. While George is well dressed, quietly thoughtful and seldom raises his voice, Phil is a scowling, snarling brute who wears his testosterone-soaked masculinity like a sheriff's star-shaped badge. Dangerously barbed fraternal bonds fray beyond repair when George takes a wife, mild-mannered widow Rose, and moves her to the ranch with her medically-minded teenage son, Peter.


LondonNet Film Review
The Power Of The Dog (12A)

Adapted from Thomas Savage’s novel by writer-director Jane Campion, The Power Of The Dog is a gently simmering study of sibling rivalry and warped masculinity, which drip-feeds us discomfort as wounded characters prey on each other’s insecurities, uncertain which of them will strike the fatal blow. Pacing is deliberately slow and silences are agonisingly prolonged, recalling the lyricism and poetic beauty of Campion’s 1993 romance The Piano, which deservedly earned her an Oscar. Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerising as the picture’s glowering antagonist: a deeply repressed rancher, who believes a man can be measured by the menace in his words, the intent of his stare and the callouses on his hands…

The London-born actor commits wholeheartedly to the psychologically complex role, gradually peeling back layers of self-loathing and confusion to expose a maelstrom of poisonous emotion. The source of his tightly coiled rage becomes abundantly clear in a breathtakingly sensual and wordless scene on a riverbank involving a scrap of fabric caressing the undulations of a naked human form. Australian cinematographer Ari Wegner captures this deeply intimate moment and the rugged vistas of New Zealand, standing in for 19th-century Montana, with aplomb. She ravishes our senses as Campion’s script steadily turns the screws on our uneasiness.

Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch) and brother George (Jesse Plemons) run a successful ranch nestled in the mountainous terrain of 1925 Montana. The siblings are cut from wildly different hides. While George is well dressed (he occasionally wears a bow tie), quietly thoughtful and seldom raises his voice, Phil is a scowling, snarling brute who wears his testosterone-soaked masculinity like a sheriff’s star-shaped badge. He is unapologetic about the stench of sweat and livestock on his skin and repeatedly undermines George’s authority in front of ranch hands by cruelly referring to his brother as “Fatso”. The only chink in Phil’s armour seems to be an obsessive devotion to the memory of his cowboy mentor, Bronco Henry.

Dangerously barbed fraternal bonds fray beyond repair when George takes a wife, mild-mannered widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and moves her to the ranch with her medically-minded teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil is openly hostile but Rose clings onto every tiny, glinting nugget of hope in the dust. “I wanted to say how nice it is not to be alone,” sweetly reciprocates George, who is unused to tenderness beneath his own roof.

The Power Of The Dog is dominated by Cumberbatch’s incendiary performance but co-stars find room to breathe, particularly Dunst’s beleaguered lady of the house and Smit-McPhee’s off-kilter scion. Campion keeps a tight hold of the reins, seldom allowing her picture to achieve more than a leisurely trot. She releases pent-up tension in a suitably understated yet deeply satisfying manner that prickles the skin and proves one dog’s bite is far worse than their bark.

– Jo Planter


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