The Power of the Dog (2021)

power of the dog poster 2021 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great twisting movie with a fantastic cast and perfect scenery

Slow start which does pay off

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Power of the Dog

Studio:  See-Saw Films/Brightstar/Max Films International

Genre(s):  Western/Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  September 2, 2021 (Venice Film Festival)/November 17, 2021 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

power of the dog dance lesson kirsten dunst jesse plemons

I bet this is a happy movie about a blended family…maybe a wacky comedy

Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is cruel and vicious…and many love him for it.  Living in Montana in 1925, Phil’s brother George (Jesse Plemons) has taken an interest in local restaurant owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), and Phil instantly finds he enjoys tearing down and torturing Rose and her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are his new targets.  When Peter makes a discovery, Phil changes his attack…and crossing Phil comes with a price.

Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog is a western drama thriller.  The movie is based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and was released to positive reviews.  The film won an Academy Awards for Best Director with nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actor (Smit-McPhee and Plemons), Best Supporting Actress (Dunst), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography.

power of the dog benedict cumberbatch western phil

Brother Phil says…I HATE EVERYONE!!!

I was excited about The Power of the Dog when I heard about it and the rave reviews following it.  I forgot to watch it and a weekend attempt to try to catch up on potential “Oscar contenders”, I watch a chunk of it…but wasn’t feeling it.  I finished it and loved the tonal switch in the last half of the movie which justified much of the beginning.  Due to aspects of the plot, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

The movie has a slow-paced beginning with characters who so flawed you can have problems connecting with any of them.  The star of course is the sadistic and cruel brother Phil who really enjoys playing with people and putting them down.  He’s suspicious and doubtful…but he’s also educated.  People like being around him (that he doesn’t destroy).  The movie goes into three paths:  Phil will change, Phil will be destroyed, or Phil will be the destroyer.  The film chooses to take all three.

power of the dog benedict cumberbatch phil anthrax

Lessoned learned: Never open up to anyone about your feelings

Phil like good characters isn’t one dimensional.  He is fiercely loyal, but he also has his hidden desires of men.  The movie switches when Peter discovers this.  While the viewer is to believe that Peter is heading down a rabbit hole manipulated by Phil, Peter is the manipulator…and Phil is another animal he is catching and dissecting.  Phil falls right into Peter’s trap and Peter’s trap is to save and protect his mother…I think it also leads to some question about the death of Peter’s father and the potential that Peter hasn’t been “soft” for a long time.

The cast is great.  Cumberbatch is a perfect villain that you can love to hate, but you also can kind of pity for his hubris in the end since it leads to his death (and the fact that he’s finally coming out of his shell with someone he legitimately seems to like).  Dunst plays a great trainwreck and shows how much she has evolved over the decades.  Jesse Plemons continues to be a rising star and Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a game-changing performance as Peter.

power of the dog peter ending kodi smit mcphee

Turns out “the power of the dog” is nothing like “the power of Greyskull”

The film is also a visual triumph.  Shot in New Zealand as a stand-in for Montana, the movie looks fantastic.  Say what you will about Westerns (they are divisive among many viewers), Westerns are often some of the best-looking movies, and The Power of the Dog is no exception.

The Power of the Dog is a movie that you have to give some time to, but it is worth the time you give.  It is one of those movies you can watch and watch again with the “twist” ending (I think twist ending is often misused since it was always leading to the ending).  There are a lot of nuances to the performances and the story that can be missed in the first viewing, and The Power of the Dog stands strong.

Related Links:

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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