Set on a Montana cattle ranch in 1925, Jane Campion’s psychological Western is a slow burn. Her adaptation from the novel by Thomas Savage, depicts somewhat of a four-sided death waltz between two brothers. One is a tortured cowboy Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), the other, his softhearted brother George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who have drifted apart in their manner and outlook on the constant life on the range and running of the family ranch. When George marries a restaurant owner named Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), a single mother with a delicate-seeming teenage son Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee), the stress on their relationship deepens – especially since all four will now have to live on the family ranch together. The movie is divided into five chapters – none which are given a name, but simply an on screen number and these numbers are a clue as to how the story is going to unfold in progressive steps, with each act building into the next. The story that unfolds from this whole scenario is so many things, but mostly can almost be looked at as a cautionary tale, with it being told in a way that feels almost like a study of it’s characters. As the chapters ensue, the focus subtly changes as does the focus on what characters come to the forefront of issues in each of their lives. It’s a movie that demands your complete attention as the individual incidents often matter less than what isn’t shown, the underlying means of it all. Blink and you just might miss it all.
As well the acting is for the most part, on par with Cumberbatch not being anyone’s first idea of a cowboy. While he does well with the body of work, he is just not good with accents and this one as well, is all over the place. Plemons subtle turn as George is just divine and Dunst is fine as well, but heads above the rest is Smit-McPhee, who has the toughest task as the smart, somewhat devious, shy young man who consistently surprises the viewer – pay attention to this character as he is the underlying thread throughout as little pieces of him are given to you at times, that if you miss them, you won’t understand the absolute brilliance of his character. Thomasin McKenzie, Adam Beach and Keith Carradine fill out some of the fairly large supporting cast as well.
“THE POWER OF THE DOG” is streaming on Netflix
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