When watching any western, it’s fair to expect gunslinging cowboys, small towns with a local watering hole, and a whole lot of horses. In the case of The Power of the Dog, audiences can expect a much slower-paced, intense, and character-driven drama that just happens to be set in the early 20th century frontier.
Directed by Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog follows rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries a woman named Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and brings her and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to live on the brothers’ ranch. This does not sit well with Phil, and he begins to show his unhappiness with these new additions to the family by making their time there as miserable as possible.
As far as actors go, The Power of the Dog has a solid cast of well-known and strong performers. Cumberbatch is excellent as the gritty, introspective cowboy. Smit-McPhee is deep and thought-provoking, especially when interacting with Cumberbatch. Dunst solidly explores the depths of alcoholism and depression, while Plemons doesn’t impress as much with his short amount of screen time.
An actor I wasn’t expecting to see in this film was Thomasin McKenzie, who is great in this and has been slowly building popularity in roles for Old, Jojo Rabbit, and most recently, Last Night in Soho. Another character in the film is the setting, which has a personality of its own. Set in Montana during 1925, every scene had something magnificent to look at, adding an extra layer to the building intensity of the plot.
Along with the scenery, the music in the film by Jonny Greenwood was so beautiful, it was almost haunting. With massive scenic views of mountains and wide-open fields, the score creates an atmosphere of beauty and an overwhelming sense of unease. My only real problem with this film is the pacing. The runtime is a little over two hours, and you really feel most of that time go by. Before the film starts to explore the potential bond between Phil and Peter, the story doesn’t have any real urgency besides Phil being mad that Rose and Peter now live at the ranch.
With a great cast, fantastic score, and breathtaking environments, The Power of the Dog is a film worth watching. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a memorable performance, embracing a different side to his acting talent compared to what we’ve seen him do before. While the runtime may have been a bit too long, the story eventually picks up and slowly builds to a conclusion that will leave you rethinking everything you just watched.
The Power of the Dog is now available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.