‘The Power of the Dog’ movie review: A complex meditation on what it means to be a man

Jane Campion, who won the Silver Lion for Best Direction at 78th Venice International Film Festival this year, has subverted the traditionally-macho western to tell an incisive tale of human relationships

Rudyard Kipling has written a lovely poem called ‘The Power of the Dog.’ All dog lovers will surely nod in agreement at “The fourteen years which Nature permits,” while swallowing a lump or blinking errant tears away. However, The Power of the Dog, written and directed by Jane Campion based on Thomas Savage’s eponymous 1967 novel, is not about a person’s love for a dog. It looks to the good book for inspiration; it is a line from Psalms in the Bible.

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While there are a couple of dogs running about the Burbank ranch, apart from love, grief, resentment, jealousy and sexuality, The Power of the Dog, is a complex meditation on what it means to be a man.

George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) and his brother, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) are wealthy ranchers. The brothers are temperamentally quite different, with George being milder, kinder and gentler while Phil even though abrasive, has the admiration of all the ranch hands. When the brothers stop at a widow, Rose’s (Kirsten Dunst) inn during a cattle run, George falls in love with her. Phil, on the other hand mocks Rose’s effeminate son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). When George marries Rose, battle lines are drawn.

The Power of the Dog

  • Director: Jane Campion
  • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee
  • Story line: A rancher declares war on his brother’s new wife and her teenage son
  • Run time: 126 minutes

The movie is beautifully shot and acted. The persnickety souls cribbing about New Zealand standing in for 1925 Montana, should get a move on. No one complained when the settings of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers were shifted from Australia to the States…

Cumberbatch fleshes out the conflicted, closeted Phil to create a character that while not loveable, is someone you feel for. Dunst is a revelation as recently-wed Rose who turns to drink when life gets too much for her. Plemons’ George quietly makes his presence felt while Smit-McPhee skates dangerously close to the dark side.

Campion, who won the Silver Lion for Best Direction at 78th Venice International Film Festival this year, has subverted the traditionally macho western to tell an incisive tale of human relationships. While the ruminative pace might take some getting used to especially for those accustomed to movies moving at breakneck pace, staying with this sensitively-told tale of love and grief ensures time well spent.

The Power of the Dog is streaming on Netflix

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