'The Power of the Dog' review: A place for Cruel Cowboys and Wild Hearts in Netflix film

Still from Netflix's The Power of the Dog starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Image via IMDb)
Still from Netflix's The Power of the Dog starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Image via IMDb)

Western movies are in again, and to be 'country' is considered cool, especially with Netflix's latest release, The Power of the Dog.

The Benedict Cumberbatch starrer is a West Side story about a cruel cowboy and his unaccepting attitude towards his brother's new wife and son until things take a different turn for Phil. The Power of the Dog is directed by Academy Award winner Jane Campion and stars Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the leads alongside Cumberbatch.

'The Power of the Dog': Review


Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog is yet another brilliant depiction of the West, only this time Benedict Cumberbatch led the film, and surprisingly, he was just what the movie needed. Although he's covered in dirt most of the film, he still manages to embody his character perfectly.

Phil, portrayed by Cumberbatch, is a man with a very masculine personality, someone who needs to prove that he's the toughest and roughest leader of the pack. This façade put up by him was probably just to hide his adoration and affection for the man who taught him more than just how to ride a horse. His eyes are cold, face as tough as a stone, and tongue is as sharp as a snake, giving himself a somewhat fearsome appearance.

As for his brother George, portrayed by Jesse Plemons, who is the very opposite of Phil - a gentler and more soft-spoken country boy, his story in The Power of the Dog really starts when he comforts Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a widow running a joint with her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), after a bullying session by none other than Phil. A victim of love in Phil's eyes and tries to stop it until Peter starts spending more time with him. A change in relationships occurs, unlocking a number of secrets and hidden intentions.

Writer/director Jane Campion is able to set a very quiet yet angry Western against a harsh background, bringing out the beauty of it. Teaching both the lead characters what they need to learn - Peter to overcome the hardened masculinity and Phil to escape the life of privilege he loathes. The tough shell learned things or perhaps life the hard way, but it is the back of a horse where he found himself and learned to disguise his desires.

An adaptation of Thomas Savage's novel of the same name, The Power of the Dog strips out many details from the book only to reveal them in the rawest form. The Power of the Dog has a quick yet brief backstory without any flashbacks but has a few scenes of characters sharing their past. Thanks to cinematographer Ari Wegner, viewers get a sense of what the characters may never be able to verbalize. Moments like Rose's pain and panic after Phil's harassment, Peter's steely glares, George's downward gazes, Phil's rage seem similar to Campion's earlier works like An Angel at My Table and The Piano.

Usually, Campion's movies talk about women fighting to be heard, but in The Power of the Dog, Rose's entrance is seen as a threat in the family. Phil is unkind to her and creates a toxic environment around her to gain his brother back. It's all because she represents a gender he loathes and cannot control. As for Rose, she is not fond of Phil and Peter together as she is afraid of the influence Phil might have on her son, but all seems good when Peter stands up against Phil's bullying.

The music in The Power of the Dog underlines and emphasizes the twists and turns in the plot. It speaks to the tense dynamic between the characters, creating an air of uneasy anticipation. The music is not far from the typical Western sound but does add extra layers to it throughout the film. The Power of the Dog has a lot of layered desire, hatred, and domination that is bound to disturb the viewers' peace, but in a good way. It is the kind of movie that finishes with a bang and plays a game between the main character and the viewers.

Stream The Power of the Dog on Netflix and submerge in the Western world.

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Edited by Yasho Amonkar