The Power of the Dog (2021) - 7/10
The modern western can be a little hit or miss. The Power of the Dog has got a lot of buzz about it though, with the film and it’s director Jane Campion hotly tipped for awards season. So expectations are pretty high. Despite having Benedict Cumberbatch playing a cowboy. He’s Phil Burbank, a surly sort. Driving cattle with his brother George, lovingly nicknamed Fatso (Jesse Plemons). George is more gentlemanly, a little more refined. You can tell from his hygiene levels alone. Plus the bow tie and hat that don’t look like he slept in them. They roll into a town where Rose (Kirsten Dunst) runs a boarding house. So far so standard. Lots of horses, cows, dust, whisky, jangling spurs, tasseled shirts and a good dose of tension between the siblings. Tension that’s soon to be heightened by Rose and her son Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee). He’s effeminate in a overly masculine world. One that’s built on the legacy of a character named Bronco who we never meet, but whom Phil idolises as his lost mentor… and possibly, probably a little bit more. There may be some big names in the cast, all of which are pretty great, but it’s McPhee that lights the touch paper on screen. He’s more interesting to watch than Cumberbatch’s grizzled portrayal and although Plemon’s is great too, the contrast that McPhee brings is captivating. He’s also the fly in Phil’s ointment. That and his mother, who themselves captivate George. It slowly paced, a sense of secrecy drilled through it and a sparse yet authentic sounding score adds to the ever-present unease. To be perfectly honest this really isn’t a typical western tale. There’s little about the lifestyle or the environment. More about society and family dynamics. Yet it all works well in this harsh yet often idyllic looking world and it does provide some important plot points. Campion slowly teasing more out of each character, revealing complex emotions and desires they choose to hide. Never judge too quickly. This really caught me off guard. It’s slow, patient, but stick with it and it really pays off. I’m not sure it’s quite as great as the hype would have you believe, but there’s a solid narrative that delightfully unfurls and much of it does look really stunning. I’m sure it’ll clean up the accolades. Films like this tend to, but it won’t be for everyone.