The Power of the Dog Has Bite, But Chews Too Slowly

The Stream: A deliberately paced plot takes too long to reveal itself.

The Big Screen: Beautiful landscapes and very good acting help to keep your attention

The Final Bill: While aesthetically pleasing, it’s too subtle for its own good.

Director: Jane Campion
Writers: Jane Campion
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee
Genre: Drama, Western
Rating: Rated R for brief sexual content/full nudity.
Runtime: 2 hours
Platform: Netflix

Happy New Year, Streamers! It’s been some busy first weeks of 2022, but I got around to watching a Netflix release from December 2021, The Power of the Dog. It is one of Netflix’s “prestige pics” that is an awards favorite. Let’s see what’s all the hype.

The Power of the Dog is directed by Jane Campion, who is best known for her film The Piano, but she hasn’t directed a film since 2009. Campion also wrote the screenplay, which is an adaptation of a novel by Thomas Savage. The Power of the Dog is a story set in Montana 1925 where brothers, Phil Burbank (Bennett Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), own and run a cattle ranch. Phil is more hands-on, getting down and dirty with the ranch hands while George is focused more on the business end. While on a cattle drive into the nearby town, Phil, George and their ranch hands encounter Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at their boarding house and restaurant. Phil’s cruel and acerbic nature lashes out at Peter leading George to offer Rose a kind shoulder. George and Rose’s relationship blossoms – hijinks ensue.

While the plot to The Power of the Dog is important, Campion has focused more on developing the characters in the story. Each main characters has their particular quirks, and the movie seeks to tell the audience why they are this way. The film uses its vast landscapes and the big, empty Burbank estate to inform the audience about the loneliness and isolation of all four of the main characters. While this atmosphere is established quickly, the rest of the story unfolds at a very deliberate pace. The film is well-edited and there doesn’t seem to be any unnecessary parts, but it does feel drawn out for what it ultimately becomes. Essentially, the audience has to be captivated by at least the conflict between Phil and Rose in order to enjoy the 2-hour ride.

Speaking of Phil and Rose, the main cast does a good job of bringing their characters to life. Benedict Cumberbatch is an interesting actor, but he’s not always the best. Here, he gets the nastiness that permeates Phil and portrays how Phil’s loneliness has morphed into acidic prickliness. To put it bluntly, Phil’s a jerk! Kirsten Dunst does well in a tricky role. Rose has to be empathetic, but there is a stark turn for her character that is confusing and difficult to swallow. Dunst rolls with it and makes Rose convincing. Cumberbatch and Dunst are responsible for at least 2 unintentionally hilarious moments in this movie. You either like that or you don’t. Finally, Smit-McPhee and Plemons round out the ensemble with strong performances that fill out the picture of this fractured family and its fraught relationships.

S2S: Official Rating Scale

Ultimately, The Power of the Dog comes to Netflix as a 2-hour, “prestige pic”, Academy Award-hopeful; so, you know what you’re going to get. It’s very serious and reveals its plot too slowly. If you’re not into the characters and their intricacies, then you may not vibe with this Dog’s power. While I enjoyed the look of the film and was drawn into the exploration of these characters, I’ve read the book, so I knew where it was going and was willing to stick with it. Since this is on Netflix, give it a handful of popcorn on a Sunday afternoon.