By Aisha S
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is an unconventional slow-burn western drama based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage. The film centres around two brothers, Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (played by Jesse Plemons) who are born with wealth and privilege. They take over their family’s cattle ranch in the wilds of Montana. Phil has an unabashedly domineering personality while George is the complete antithetical version of him. George marries Rose Gordon (played by Kirsten Dunst), a widow and tavern owner. Rose has a teenage son named Peter (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who gets mocked by a volatile Phil for his effeminate demeanour.
One of the highlights of this movie is the stunningly grim score done by Jonny Greenwood, who also composed the evocative background score for spencer. Greenwood is a clear contender for the upcoming award season’s best Original Score category. Greenwood’s intense composition further demonstrates how music plays one of the vital elements in the making of a successful film. Cinematographer Ari Wegner did a fantastic job of encapsulating the nightmarish and slow-building atmosphere of the movie. Everything is beautifully shot and the subdued colour palette complements the film’s claustrophobic tone.
Campion’s characters have lots of psychological complexities and she has written them with surgical precision. Phil Burbank with his corrosive hypermasculinity and sardonic eyes takes up every chance to demean the people around him. But underneath that performative masculinity and belligerent personality reclines inferiority complex and sexual repression. Campion’s skilful direction and attentive writing successfully delves deep into the male psyche. Benedict Cumberbatch full-on embraces Phil’s toxic masculinity and aggressive nature, hence putting out one of the best performances of his career so far.
The biggest surprise and jarring element of this film is Peter’s character development. Many would want to revisit the movie after watching the cleverly written climax. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s refined yet guileful portrayal of Peter Gordon is the performance to look out for. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons play the roles of Rose Gordon and George Burbank with dexterity. However, the movie belongs to the peculiar bond between Peter Gordon and Phil Burbank.
Jane Campion returns to film-making after twelve years with a potential academy award-winning project. Campion is an ingenious director who knows exactly what she is doing. She cleverly relies more on the body language of her characters rather than just the dialogues. The Power of the Dog is the kind of movie that comes full circle in the last few minutes and Campion handles it with triumph. The film presents itself as a brooding tale of sibling rivalry but becomes an entirely different story with the inclusion of a meticulously written plot twist.
The Power of the Dog is going to be divisive amongst the audience. It does have some pacing issues, it feels too slow at some parts and too rushed in others. But overall, the movie ultimately rewards the viewers with its brilliant culmination.