Often the Western genre can produce some of the most powerful films you are ever likely to see. I can still remember marvelling at the film making prowess of Sergio Leone after watching Once Upon A Time In The West for the first time. Then there are modern day classics like Meek’s Cutoff and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Now, we can add another film to that list – The Power of The Dog.
Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of The Dog tells the story of two brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who have built themselves up from nothing to well-respected Montana ranch owners back in 1925.
But while George looks after the finances and helps the ranch make a profit, Phil leads the men who do the grunt work. Phil is also considered a rude and gruff enigma. College learned; Phil threw away a promising future to focus on the work with the cattle and is now so anti-social that even getting him to bathe is a chore.
His world is further interrupted when after a trip into town, Phil marries a local widower, Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), who brings herself and her ‘strange’ son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) back to the ranch. It is awkward time as Phil has previously bullied Peter in the past to the point where Rose is in tears, and now he is jealous of the fact that George is out living his life.
The Power of The Dog is a brilliant character piece that plays out like some of Shakespeare’s finest work. This is one film you need to pay attention to because if you look away from the screen you are most likely to miss an important piece of the puzzle that all comes together in the final moments of the film. Yes, this film has a haunting and powerful finale that is guaranteed to stay with you like some of the finest moments of cinema that you have ever seen. For once this year, I was one of those people that just couldn’t get out of my chair even after the final credits had finished because I was just in total awe of what had just played out in front of me.
Campion’s screenplay successfully brings Thomas Savage’s novel to life in such a brutal yet beautiful way. Words are like weapons, while at times silence and glances can be just as harmful. Then there is the amazing cinematography of Ari Wegner that makes the harsh Montana landscape look like something that should be hanging in the Louvre.
Rounding out this perfect set piece are the performances of the film’s leads. Benedict Cumberbatch reminds serious cinema lovers just how good he is in a role that requires pure acting talent, well matched with Jesse Plemons who plays the awkward yet determined George to a tee. Grouped together with Melancholia this is some of Kirsten Dunst’s finest work, while Kodi Smit-McPhee takes another huge step forward in his acting career by portraying the strange and maligned Peter in a way that should garnish some award nominations. The young actor seems right at home acting alongside such a stellar cast and many of his scenes with Cumberbatch are pure cinematic magic.
The Power of The Dog is what cinema should be about. A brilliantly written script that keeps its audience guessing, an awe throughout, and brought to the screen by a director that can turn even the harshest scene into a true brushstroke of beauty. To top it all off, the cast bring in hardened performances that will knock the audiences back into their seats. The Power of The Dog doesn’t need epic special effects or gimmicks to impress audiences, it does so with pure cinematic gold. I don’t say this very often but to me, this was close to the perfect film, and it is one that I cannot wait to delve back into again as soon as I can.