The Power of the Dog

2021, Western/Drama, 2h 8m

352 Reviews Fewer than 50 Verified Ratings

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critics consensus

Brought to life by a stellar ensemble led by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog reaffirms writer-director Jane Campion as one of her generation's finest filmmakers. Read critic reviews

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If you're ready to saddle up for a slow ride, The Power of the Dog's great acting and interesting ideas make the journey worthwhile. Read audience reviews

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Movie Info

Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil Burbank is brutally beguiling. All of Phil's romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and in the land: He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud. He is a cowboy as raw as his hides. The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana. At the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose, the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable son Peter. Phil behaves so cruelly he drives them both to tears, reveling in their hurt and rousing his fellow cowhands to laughter -- all except his brother George, who comforts Rose then returns to marry her. As Phil swings between fury and cunning, his taunting of Rose takes an eerie form -- he hovers at the edges of her vision, whistling a tune she can no longer play. His mockery of her son is more overt, amplified by the cheering of Phil's cowhand disciples. Then Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this latest gesture a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot twisting further into menace?

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Critic Reviews for The Power of the Dog

Audience Reviews for The Power of the Dog

  • Feb 10, 2022
    Befuddled by the critics' raves of this film. Sure the cinematography is pretty (but not much better than Yellowstone), but the film is just a series of vignettes that plods toward a predictable ending. None of the characters is particularly appealing, and Rose's turn from preaching temperance to an alcoholic happens somewhere between scenes with no explanation. But I guess critics just love Jane Campion. It sure wouldn't make my list of Oscar contenders.
    Joe S Super Reviewer
  • Dec 31, 2021
    Western Side Story - Film Review: The Power Of The Dog ★★★★1/2 Injecting homoeroticism into the Western genre is nothing new, with The Sisters Brothers and Brokeback Mountain being just a couple of somewhat recent examples, but the great Jane Campion's long-awaited return to features, The Power Of The Dog, feels fresh due to its fascinating tone and examination of today's hot button issue of toxic masculinity. Adapted from Thomas Savage's 1967 novel, Campion delivers a slow, stately, and stunning depiction of how unchecked machismo has continued to impact society. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, who with his brother George (Jesse Plemons) operates a successful ranch in 1925 Montana. While George adopts a mannered, genteel persona, Phil, physically rigid and hard-staring, is one cigarette away from being the Marlboro Man. At a stopover on a cattle drive one day, they encounter Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her lanky, effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smitt-McPhee), who prepare and serve food to the guests. Phil and his posse instantly key into Peter's lisp, the way he holds his napkin, and his penchant for making paper flowers, leading to an onslaught of homophobic slurs. Although Rose doesn't have the agency to defend her son, she clearly won't soon forget this attack. When George takes a liking to Rose, eventually marrying her and bringing her back to the ranch, Phil feels threatened by her presence, labeling her a gold digger. On a break from his college medical studies, Phil soon joins them as well, creating an unhealthy dynamic in the Burbank household. Through Rose and Peter, we witness the crushing effects bullying has on them, while through Phil, we see how his adopting a patriarchal stance has crushed his soul, along with everybody else's. The push-pull of his relationship with Peter takes over the second half of the film. You wonder if Phil's atoning for past grievances or setting a trap for this ill-treated kid. That mystery and tension had me in its grip from beginning to end. The film has sparse dialogue and gorgeous cinematography by Ari Wegner, who impressed me with her unforgettable work on In Fabric. Here, she frames the characters against the grand expanse of the wild west, with New Zealand standing in for Montana; the imposing landscape perhaps causing men to toughen up just as much as the ways in which they've been socialized. Cumberbatch's performance commands attention from the start as we watch his facade chip away from one scene to the next. Phil's threats chill the bone, as do his acts of kindness. Violence could erupt at any moment with a man as tightly wound as him. He literally drives Rose to drink and pulls Peter into situations which grow more and more ominous. Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career here, forcing us to duck and cover at his hair-trigger temper or feel deep empathy for layers of himself he has long buried. One blistering scene at a private watering hole shows us all of these sides. It's utterly beguiling and terrifying. A tad underwritten, the film's austerity sometimes jettisons certain motivations, particularly when it comes to Plemons' character. George gets abandoned by the script, making it a bit unclear what he knows and how he feels about it. Plemons, as always, does fine work, but he is eclipsed by his co-stars, who truly shine. Dunst beautifully conveys the desperation of a mama bear who can't protect her young or even herself from male aggression, and Smitt-McPhee seizes the screen with his watchful, gentle, yet sly performance. While his role lacks the kind of scenes which end up on Oscar reels, his quiet manner coupled with the actor's own mystique kept me seated upright. I haven't seen a bullied gay character portrayed before with this much watchfulness and smarts. Smitt-McPhee is brilliant. While the film looks like a Western, it feels more like an intimate chamber drama pitting old school masculinity against a type of new world presentation. It's that story sometimes just on the edges of a typical Oater which beguiles here. Who will win out? Hard to say. While the film offers up its own definitive answer, men like Phil and Peter still seem to be at odds with each other to this day. Knowing this, especially when this fantastic film comes to its surprising, diabolical conclusion, will send a chill up your spine. Welcome back, Jane Campion. Your female gaze about the male gaze adds a new wrinkle to the conversation about gays.
    Super Reviewer
  • Dec 07, 2021
    I've said many times that the western genre is hit or miss for me as a whole. When a great western comes along, I'll sing its praises and sometimes they're some of the absolute best films out there at the time. For me, after so many westerns over the decades, it takes a lot for one to feel different or stand out among the rest. The Power of the Dog has just hit Netflix and I believe it deserves every ounce of praise it's been receiving. Especially if you're a fan of this type of tone/feel, here's why I'd recommend this one.  The year is 1925. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rancher through and through, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that the world around him is changing. Stuck in his very ignorant ways and refusing to even do the simplest tasks, such as bathing, he decides to seclude himself. Struggling with his own sexuality, he and his brother George (Jesse Plemons) venture into a town and meet Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). George, forming a real relationship with this woman, allows Phil to become far too close to her son. This in turn sparks some chemistry or lack thereof. Going into this film, I really wasn't aware of the premise itself. I had heard cliff notes, but I've even kept my description a little vague because where this film ends up feels incredibly worthwhile. There are going to be viewers who will be lost when watching the final moments, but upon reflecting back on the events of the film, it all made enough sense and satisfied me. The final couple of scenes really goes for it in the way that it relies on its audience to have followed each line of dialogue. If you have done so and really think about the final shot of the film, I think you may love this one as I did.  I'll admit that I'm pretty unfamiliar with the work of Jane Campion, who wrote and directed this film. She has quite a few independent projects under her belt that I may just have to seek out since visiting this film. The way she is able to get certain performances out of this cast simply blew me away. It was also nice to see Kirsten Dunst in a very solid role once again (in which she delivered quite well). It also goes without saying that yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as always. It really came down to the vulnerable performance by Kodi Smit-McPhee for me. His mannerisms for this character just felt very authentic and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, thinking about what this character was really feeling deep down.  Overall, The Power of the Dog probably won't hit everyone the same way that it hit me, but that's what movies are supposed to do. I can see people who really connect with the ending, arguing with someone who equally hated it and can probably stir up quite the debate. I for one loved how this film ended, simply due to the fact that it was all done with visual storytelling and callbacks to previous lines of dialogue. Now streaming on Netflix, if The Power of the Dog sounds like something you may be interested in, then you probably will be. Great storytelling and filmmaking all around.
    Super Reviewer
  • Dec 02, 2021
    Campion remains one of the undisputed masters of films about desire. Also, this may yet prove to be the definitive use of Cumberbatch.
    Alec B Super Reviewer

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