The Power of the Dog Movie Review
In the slow-boil drama-thriller The Power of the Dog, Benedict Cumberbatch bides his time tormenting his brother and the man’s new wife, inflicting an ever-increasing amount of verbal and psychological terror upon the helpless couple. But is he a villain, or something else entirely?
Jane Campion’s takedown of toxic masculinity is a non-traditional western, set in Montana in the 1920s as modern life begins to creep into the ranchlands and the traditional definition of what it means to be a man evolves. Cumberbatch’s Phil is a sharp and relentless rancher, opposed to anything he can’t control or that doesn’t fit into what he expects of manlihood. Meanwhile, his brother George (Jesse Plemons) is a passive, kind, and slower gentleman largely uninterested in ranching life, while his stepson is more assertively uninterested in projecting masculinity and is, presumed, to be gay.
A slow yet methodical film powered by great performances and extremely intelligent filmmaking by Campion, The Power of the Dog doesn’t overpower you at first but lingers in memory long after it ends.
Phil’s ruthless nature is captivating thanks to Cumberbatch’s sizzling performance, and that’s before Campion, working from the novel by Thomas Savage, pivots his character to something much more layered, complex, and interesting. Cumberbatch gets the best of both worlds here, allowed to be both nasty and, while always guarded, emotionally deep.
Though he may be the scene stealer, Plemons is excellent as always, and Kirsten Dunst gives her best performance since her season of Fargo years ago. Kodi Smit-McPhee is even sneakier, offering up a meticulously profound performance that relies heavily on body language and facial expressions.
Complemented by a sneakily dark finish that you’ll miss if you’re not watching carefully, The Power of the Dog lands an unexpected punch that will leave you talking for days.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.