Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
Director: Jane Campion
Running Time: 128 mins
The Power Of The Dog is an American film about a rancher whose brother brings his new wife to live at home, creating tension that threatens to rip the family apart, and reopen wounds and secrets from the past.
An understated, slow-paced and dialogue-heavy western, The Power Of The Dog may seem like a lot at first. But stick with it, because it’s certainly worth your time. After a slow start, this film gradually evolves into an enthralling psychodrama, featuring a quartet of fantastic leading performances, powerfully atmospheric direction and some spectacular scenery, all of which makes it a gripping, convincing and vibrant western.
Of course, if you’re looking for classic cowboy fare, then this isn’t the film to watch. The Power Of The Dog is a lot more comparable to recent indie westerns like Slow West, and uses its setting as a vehicle to tell a human story, and one that’s got a lot of depth to it as well.
First things first, this movie looks absolutely spectacular. Its understated atmosphere and gritty drama may make things in the story unsettling, but director Jane Campion does a brilliant job at giving an honest and down-to-earth portrayal while simultaneously capturing a bit of that Wild West magic in the stunning scenery that surrounds the house in which much of this film takes place.
But The Power Of The Dog is more than just a pretty face, as it’s a cleverly-plotted film that uses a slow pace to great effect. Centring around four main characters, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee, the film evolves dramatically as it shifts from focusing on the relationship between each in different ways.
In its slower and less eventful opening act, the relationship between brother ranchers Cumberbatch and Plemons is centre stage. That’s a simpler but brilliantly effective way to set up Cumberbatch’s darkly unsettling character, while endearing you to Plemons’ character as begins to fall for Kirsten Dunst.
Then, the film shifts in its middle act to the relationship between Cumberbatch and Dunst, and the instability both of their presences bring to the ranch. It’s a steely, eerie game of wits that sees Dunst haunted by the constant, looming presence of Cumberbatch, but it makes for a brilliantly tense watch as we see her become emotionally drained by constant threat.
And in the final act, Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee take the stage, as we discover new truths about each character in what evolves into the film’s most surprisingly emotionally endearing section. This is where The Power Of The Dog really hits home on an intimate, human level, and provides an impressively inspiring message of never judging a book by its cover, yet all the while giving a sobering demonstration of how unfounded aggression can do damage to those around you.
The vast majority of the film’s drama is unsaid, laid out in gripping subtext that bears itself brilliantly as the story unfolds. This may seem like a tough watch at first, but The Power Of The Dog is a movie that really impresses if you give it your time. And that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.