The Power of the Dog is a 2021 Western psychological drama film written and directed by Jane Campion and is based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
In Montana in 1925, wealthy rancher brothers Phil and George Burbank meet widow and owner of an inn Rose Gordon during a cattle drive. The kind George is taken quickly by Rose, while the turbulent Phil, influenced by his mentor Bronco Henry, makes fun of Rose’s son Peter for his lisp effete ways.
George and Rose get married and she moves into the Burbank ranch house and is able to use George’s money to send Peter to college to study medicine and surgery. Phil takes a instant hatred towards Rose, believing she married George for his money. George arranges a dinner party with his parents and the gorvernor. He intends to introduce his guests to Rose, so they can meet her and hear her play the new piano, of which she says she can barely play. During the party, Rose is shaken by Phil’s earlier mocking of her skills, is unable to play more than a few notes. She begins heavily drinking alcohol, something she was against doing before.
By the time Peter has come to stay at the house for summer break, Rose has turned into an alchoholic. Phil and his men tease Peter and resorts to staying in his room. He he brings home a rabbit he has caught, making his mother excited, but she later finds that Peter has killed and dissected it. Alone in the woods, Phil masturbates with Bronco Henry’s scarf. Peter enters woods and finds magazines with Bronco Henry’s name on them with pictures of nude men. He watches Phil bathing in a pond with the handkerchief around his neck. Phil sees him and runs him off.
Phil begins to show respect to Peter, offering to teach him how to braid a lasso from rawhide and teach him how to ride a horse. Peter goes with him. Peter goes on his own one day and finds a dead cow, from which he cuts off pieces of it’s hide. While working on fencing, Phil hurts his hand moving the wood. Peter tells him about finding his alcoholic father, who hung himself and cutting down the body and Phil scoffs.
Rose’s drinking worsens when she sees how much time her son is spending with Phil. After learning about Phil’s rule of burning the hides he doesn’t need anymore, Rose goes against him and gives the hides to local Native Americans who thank her with a pair of gloves. She then faints from too much alcohol in her systemand George helps her, throwing away a bottle of Bourbon that he had found in the bed.
Phil is angry about not having any of the hides he needs to finish Peter’s lasso and he tries to throw is anger towards Rose but is stopped by George. Peter calms Phil down by offering him the hide he had gotten from the dead cow, but Peter fails to tell him that animal was already dead when he found it. Phil is touched and informs him that their relationship will be even better now.
This is not your typical western, being that it takes place in the 20th century, so you do see cars and electricty, instead of covered wagons and oil lamps. The film is a bit too slow throughout and doesn’t go into enough detail about Rose’s first husband and Peter’s father, other thank he was abusive, an alcoholic and hanged himself. Also, not enough scenes of George and Rose together. But the movie is filled with powerful emotion.
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Phil Burbank oustandingly, making you really believe his a cowboy and rancher and not just a great English actor. Jesse Plemons is also great as his brother George Burbank, although his character could’ve been on the film more. Kirsten Dunst is fantastic as Rose Gordon and Kodi Smit-McPhee also does a fine job as her son Peter Gordon.
This film is filled with themes such as grief, love, hatred, jealousy, sexuality and greed as well as wealth and alcoholism. It is a bit slow for much of the movie, so it can be a bit boring, but the acting is superb and the music is exquisite, the setting is absolutely beautiful throughout. But at a runtime of two hours and six minutes, I was hoping for something at least half way exciting to hold my attention better.
Overall, this is one of the better films of last year. It’s not a perfect motion picture, but it’s not quite terrible. It is very well done , aside from being really slow, but it’s not as good as other westerns, but does deserve applaus for acting, costumes, soundtrack and setting. The story and film itself is lacking as far as entertainment, so I found myself wanting more and was disappointed since this got such rave reviews and awards. It left me wishing for more. If you’ve never seen a Western film before, don’t start with this one, try a classic like Hang ‘Em High first. Overall, a fairly well done movie. 18+ 3.5/5