Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.
Often the Western genre can produce some of the most powerful films you are ever likely to see. I can still remember marveling at the filmmaking prowess of Sergio Leone after watching Once Upon A Time In The West for the first time. Then there are modern-day classics like Meek’s Cutoff and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Now we can add another film to that list – The Power Of The Dog.
Directed by Jane Campion (The Piano) The Power Of The Dog tells the story of two brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons – The Irishman) who have built themselves up from nothing to well-respected Montana ranch owners back in 1925.
But while George looks after fiancés and helps the ranch make a profit Phil leads the men who do the grunt work. Phil is also considered a rude and gruff enigma. College learned he threw away a promising future to focus on the work with the cattle and is now so anti-social even getting him to bathe is a chore.
His world is further interrupted when after a trip into town Phil marriages a local widower, Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst – Bring It On), and brings herself and her ‘strange’ son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road) back to the ranch. It is an awkward time as Phil has previously bullied Peter to the point where Rose is in tears and now he is jealous of the fact that George is out living his life.
The Power Of The Dog is a brilliant character piece that plays out like some of Shakespeare’s finest work. This is one film where as an audience member if you look away from the screen you are likely to miss an important piece of the puzzle that all comes together in the final moments of the film. Yes, this film has a haunting and powerful finale that is guaranteed to stay with you like some of the finest moments of cinema that you have ever seen. For once this year I was one of those people that just couldn’t get out of my chair even after the final credits had finished because I was just in total awe of what had just played out in front of me.
Campion’s screenplay brings Thomas Savage’s novel to life in a brutal yet beautiful way. Words are like weapons throughout the film while at times silence and glances can be just as harmful. Then there is the amazing cinematography of Ari Wegner (Lady Macbeth) that makes the harsh Montana landscape look like something that should be hanging in the Louvre.
Rounding out this perfect set-piece are the performances of the film’s leads. Benedict Cumberbatch reminds serious cinema lovers just how good he is in a role that requires pure acting talent while he is well-matched with Jesse Plemons who plays the awkward yet determined George to a tee. Grouped together with Melancholia this is some of Kirsten Dunst’s finest work while Kodi Smit-McPhee takes another huge step forward in his acting career by portraying the strange and maligned Peter in a way that should garnish some award nominations. The young actor seems right at home acting alongside such a stellar cast and many of his scenes with Cumberbatch are pure cinematic magic.
The Power Of The Dog is what cinema should be about. A brilliantly written script that keeps its audience guessing and in awe throughout and brought to the screen by the director that can turn even the harshest scene into a true brushstroke of beauty. Then to top it off throw in a cast that brings in hardened performances that knock the audience back into their seats. The Power Of The Dog doesn’t need epic special effects or gimmicks to impress the audience it does with pure cinematic gold. I don’t say this very often but to me this was close to the perfect film and it is one that I cannot wait to delve back into again as soon as I can.