REVIEW: “THE POWER OF THE DOG” (2021) Netflix

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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.

Grade: B-

“THE POWER OF THE DOG” is streaming on Netflix

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“SLOW WEST” ~ REVIEW (2015) A24 FILMS

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Release date: Friday, May 15th, 2015 in the U.S. ~ U.K. release date: Friday, June 26th, 2015

“Go West young man, Go West” – This was the old adage all Westerns were based upon for a time, told to drifting young men back in the day. And “Slow West” is just about that journey ~ with a twist, as it’s no ordinary Western. Trust me on this one.

Starting the film, we follow 16 yr.old Scottish rich boy “Jay Cavendish” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journey across the old Colorado frontier of 1870s America in search of the girl he loves, “Rose Ross” (Caren Pistorius), who has fled to America with her father, “John Ross” (Rory McCann). As Jay begins his search for what he believes is his true love, he is completely unaware that Rose & her father are wanted, dead or alive, as murderers with huge bounties on their heads. Needless to say this has brought out numerous not so savory bounty hunters, who are all in search of them.

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When Jay runs into bounty hunter extraordinaire, “Silas Selleck” (Michael Fassbender) who during an encounter with some soldiers, bails him out of a bad situation then offers his services of protection, for a fee of course, to escort him to where Rose is. As we listen to Silas, who confesses while narrating this quirky oft violent story, that this is really his whole ulterior motive in taking Jay along.

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Hot on their trail is another bounty hunter “Payne” (Ben Mendelsohn), along with his group of cold-blooded bounty hunters. As an ex-member of the team, Silas went the lone route after clearly having different ideas on how getting quick cash through delivering bounties should go. Payne is not having any of it, as the he tries to convince Silas to come back to the group so it’s no surprise that both Payne and Silas have different views when it comes to the young man, but Silas still does whatever he can to protect Jay from them and the truth about Rose.
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As per usual, Fassbender eats up the screen doing his best “High Plains Drifter” impersonation going even so far as having the ever present cigarillo hanging from the side of his mouth. The chemistry between Smit-McPhee and Fassbender is great, as we watch the pair soon develop a heartfelt, darkly funny, camaraderie that runs to the spine of the film. But don’t mistake this for an yippe-kai-yay uplifting buddy-western horseback ride through the wild west, because this world is filled with dark characters and even bleaker scenarios, but still has enough entertainment value to ensnare you in it. The graphic violence may come off as funny sometimes, but it works for a film taking place in the Old West.

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While Slow West may be considered a Western, it also is a nicely done coming-of-age story about Jay becoming a man and Silas learning that there is more to life than living on the road. Jay’s complete naiveness for life in the Old West and though complete opposites, it somehow matches well with Silas’ stone cold attitude. As things move along, Jay’s determination to get to the girl he loves slowly starts to affect Silas. You notice as he starts having this father-son bonding with Jay by teaching him how to shoot a gun and even giving him his first shave. At the same time, Jay shows Silas the beauty of life, so it’s hard to tell which of these men are actually growing up.

The movie comes to a head in a brutal, climactic shootout that brings all the characters together in one final showdown that results in bloodshed and an oh-so-unpredictable death. The only sour point in its conclusion is it’s almost just a tad too neat and tidy. Slow West is definitely a very unique, different type western from those I’ve seen, but it worked. With it’s somewhat fairy tale-ness, witty humor, silly violence, it’s a worthy addition to this genres roots, but with a modern edged tone.

Screening at USC School of Cinematic Arts, Ray Stark Theatre – Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Grade: B-
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RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)