The Power of the Dog (2021)

by | Aug 18, 2023 | 2020s, Drama, Film Reviews, Western | 0 comments

A Polarizing Tale of Ambition and Subtlety


Release date: 19 November 2021 (UK)
Director: Jane Campion
Budget: $35 – $39 million USD
Box office: 417 thousand USD


In the ever-evolving landscape of cinema, there are films that emerge as polarizing figures, sparking debates and discussions that stretch far beyond their runtimes. One such movie that has captured both the adulation and the skepticism of audiences is “The Power of the Dog” (2021), a slow-burning exploration of family dynamics set against the picturesque yet ominous backdrop of 1920s Montana. While some hail it as a masterclass in subtlety, others find themselves adrift in its deliberate pacing and lack of emotional resonance. In this review, I stand amongst the latter, rating the film 4 out of 10, for its lofty intentions that never quite soar.

Adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, “The Power of the Dog” chronicles the lives of two vastly different brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who co-own a ranch in Montana. The narrative takes an intriguing turn when George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a widow with a teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil’s domineering and enigmatic presence takes center stage as he subjects Peter to relentless psychological torment, sending ripples of tension through the family and the film.


The Power of the Dog (2021) A Polarizing Tale of Ambition and Subtlety | Movie Review


While the premise holds promise, the movie’s slow-paced execution has garnered mixed reactions from online reviewers. Jane Campion, known for her directorial finesse, takes a calculated risk by letting the story unfold at its own languid pace. This measured approach can be seen as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it mirrors the vastness of the Montana landscape, letting viewers sink into its beauty and isolation. On the other hand, it often leads to moments of disconnection, with the narrative occasionally sagging under its own weight.


The Power of the Dog (2021) A Polarizing Tale of Ambition and Subtlety | Movie Review


Visually, “The Power of the Dog” is a triumph. Cinematographer Ari Wegner captures the stark beauty of Montana’s rugged terrain, expertly contrasting the sprawling landscapes with the emotional intricacies of the characters. Campion’s decision to shoot in New Zealand to emulate Montana’s natural beauty was a pragmatic choice, given the logistical challenges that the production faced. However, it’s clear that the authenticity of the setting was a priority, and this commitment shows on screen.

The performances, particularly Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Phil, stand as a testament to the film’s commitment to character-driven storytelling. Cumberbatch imbues Phil with an aura of unsettling charisma, a blend of masculinity and cruelty that simmers beneath the surface. Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee provide solid support, each navigating their characters’ complexities with grace. Yet, while the actors do their best to infuse life into their roles, the script’s limitations sometimes undercut the potential depth of their performances.


The Power of the Dog (2021) A Polarizing Tale of Ambition and Subtlety | Movie Review


Filming “The Power of the Dog” was no small feat, especially considering the global pandemic that hit the industry hard. The fact that the production managed to wrap in just over two months, even with the challenges posed by the pandemic, speaks volumes about the dedication and resilience of the team involved.

When it comes to its box office reception, “The Power of the Dog” took an unconventional route. With a limited theatrical release followed by availability on Netflix, the film’s financial performance is somewhat elusive due to the streaming giant’s refusal to disclose comprehensive viewing figures. However, it’s evident that the film generated buzz primarily due to the star-studded cast and Campion’s reputation as a skilled filmmaker.


The Power of the Dog (2021) A Polarizing Tale of Ambition and Subtlety | Movie Review


Online reviews reflect the stark divide in opinions about “The Power of the Dog.” Some viewers laud its restraint and psychological depth, praising its ability to linger in the mind long after the credits roll. Others, however, find themselves grappling with the film’s deliberate detachment and lack of narrative propulsion. This divide of opinions, while a testament to the film’s thought-provoking nature, underscores its potential to alienate as much as it intrigues.

In conclusion, “The Power of the Dog” is a film that undoubtedly aspires to be an intricate exploration of masculinity, family, and the corrosive power of secrets. While it boasts commendable performances, stunning visuals, and a dedication to authenticity in its production, it falls short of creating a fully engaging and emotionally resonant cinematic experience. The deliberate pacing and occasionally aloof storytelling lead to a sense of detachment rather than immersion. For all its ambition, the film ultimately lacks the cohesive force to truly leave an indelible mark.


My Rating: 4/10
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