Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Film: The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog (c) Netflix

The Power of the Dog
In Cinemas and Netflix 

Premise: It is 1920s Montana and the Brothers Burbank are running their family cattle farm. Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) seems to be enjoying his rough but satisfying life, roughhousing with the workers and drinking the night away. His brother George (Jesse Plemons), on the other hand, who seems to be handling more of the business side of the farm, isn’t very happy, even though Phil tries to get him out of his shell. Enter the widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), whom George sees as a way out of his unhappiness, and Phil sees as an interloper to his life. Rose also has a college aged son, Peter (Kodi Smith-McPhee). The four outwardly form an uneasy peace, until the vindictive and surly Phil starts to make life miserable for everyone. 

My Take: Man, I miss Jane Campion movies. The New Zealand director hasn’t made a movie since 2014’s “Bright Star.” She made one of my favorite movies, “The Piano,” and has always had an interesting visual style, from “An Angel at my Table” to “The Portrait of a Lady.” Here, she is pretty much giving us a straightforward tale, although not shying away from the harsh reality of life on this farm. But for a while, I felt I was missing the point of the film. Sure, Cumberbatch is excellent as the loathsome Phil, but his reign of terror becomes tiresome. Until the last half hour of the film. At that point, Campion shows us why the hour-and-half previous was such a slow burn as the ending packs quite a powerful punch. Based on a novel by Thomas Savage, which I haven’t read, I can imagine the book being narrated by each of the four main characters at certain parts, but whose story the movie ultimately belongs to remains a mystery until that ending. All four actors are so good here. You may feel restless at the halfway mark, but I assure you, the story rewards you for your patience. 

VIP: Ari Wegner. It’s not surprising that a Western set in Montana would have beautiful vista shots and gorgeous skies, but cinematographer Wegner doesn’t shy away from the harshness of the landscape or more importantly, the claustrophobic atmosphere that envelopes the main characters as well. The Australian Wegner, who also shot this year’s “Zola,” is one of the few female DPs working at this level in films. And if you were wondering, the title is a reference to a rock formation near the cattle farm that resembles a dog, also wonderfully captured by Wegner’s lens.

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