Movie Review: The Power of the Dog (2021)

Now on Netflix.

Three characters grappling with divergent tenets, truths and toxins in their masculinity are central to the game of psychological violence played out on the plains of 1925 Montana in Jane Campion’s outstanding drama The Power of the Dog (A-). This ominous and symbolism-heavy slow burn is sure to satiate cinema lovers as this auteur writer/director plumbs the protective layers of ranch culture, marriage, sexuality and even man’s dominion over nature. Campion exhibits impeccable instincts as she locks in on her exacting characters’ subtleties, breaks ‘em in and then lets the plot’s pot start boiling. In her directorial hands, even braiding a lasso is replete with tension. The story is set in motion as two ranch owners gain newcomers into their prickly pack. Benedict Cumberbatch is towering as the ornery and often cruel alpha male with a bevy of complaints to chap his hide. He’s in complete command of his brash character and creates an extremely memorable performance. Jesse Plemons as his more mild-mannered brother and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a vulnerable and unconventional newcomer to the crew of cowboys each get to inhabit intriguing parts. As the primary portrait of a lady in these times, Kirsten Dunst is also exceptional if surprisingly underdeveloped as the widow and innkeeper thrust into the central family dynamics. Campion is sovereign over subtext and drops clues avid moviegoers will relish. Jonny Greenwood’s score punctuates the proceedings with spirit and suspense, and the cinematography of the American West provides a fitting canvas on which the characters clash. It’s a dramatic delight to watch predatory instincts play out including the savage gnashing of teeth, with a pulpy and palpable sense of saddle wood and sweat in the air as lost boys reckon with the decline of their civilization. 

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