The Power of the Dog (2021, Jane Campion, UK/Canada/Australia/New Zealand)

The Power of the Dog is the latest film from New Zealand auteur Jane Campion. It marks her first return to the big screen since 2009's Bright Star. Campion had a streak of strong, female-driven films in the late 80s and early 90s, which culminated with the immense success of 1993's The Piano. Many of her films concern people who do not fit into their current social environment, and The Power of the Dog is no exception. Based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, the film tells the story of ranch-owners in 1920s Montana - specifically two brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) Burbank. The film is largely a character study of Phil, a borderline sociopathic character who is jealous of his brother's relationship with a widowed woman - Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst). Phil's relationship with Rose's son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) will prove to be his ultimate undoing.

Perhaps the main complaint regarding Power of the Dog is its slow pace, and this is true. The film takes a long time to build steam, and the latter half is far more engaging than the first half. Campion takes a novelistic approach to the material, sprinkling the plot with hints and clues as to what will unfold later on. For the Netflix audience accustomed to constant stimulation, a lot of these clues will inevitably be missed. The film is one where you need to soak in the mood. The beautiful landscapes, photographed by DP Ari Wegner, convey the scope of the landscape but also a sense of menace. This is likewise replicated by Johnny Greenwood's score, which has an atonal rumbling that captures the constant sense of unease and tension throughout the film. While Power of the Dog is not a masterpiece, it is a complex film that is deserving of the attention it is receiving. 


7/10

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