The Power Of The Dog TIFF Review

The Plot

A slow burn western drama set in 1925 following the Burbank brothers, a pair of wealthy Montana ranchers. When George Burbank unexpectedly brings home a new wife Rose and her existing son Peter, it triggers a menacing campaign of cruelty and psychological torment from his tyrannical brother Phil. Setting the new ‘family’ on a tense and perilous path toward possible destruction.

The Good

Director Jane Campion brings her much celebrated talents for tense drama and sumptuous visuals firmly to bear on a palpably menacing tale of repressed desire and cruelty. The Power Of The Dog is an openly hostile and terse examination of familiar Western tropes that will captivate considerable compulsive viewing thanks to a barrage of talented performances from an all-star cast. Understated and relentlessly intense it’s an unapologetically challenging piece of fraught psychological drama that rides towards some truly unexpected conclusions.

Benedict Cumberbatch expertly transforms his quintessentially British charms into an authentically menacing presence as a tyrannically hard edged Montana rancher. As the film’s cruel antagonist Cumberbatch absolutely excels in injecting layers of inner turmoil and seething toxicity into the character. The Sherlock and Star Trek star has always been able to adeptly turn his cold eyed stare and hard spoken eloquence into powerful villainous weapons. Yet again he does so to excellent effect in a compelling performance that paints rancher Phil as dangerously harsh and fragile.

Alongside Cumberbatch’s totemic performance the real life pairing of married stars Jesse Plemmons and Kirsten Dunst as the couple caught in the crosshairs of Phil’s cruelty provides the film with a ready-made understated emotional authenticity. Both Dunst and Plemmons are on typically fine form as the victims of toxic torment struggling to navigate a path to happiness in the face a truly menacing obstacle.

Kodi Smitt McPhee likewise is an invaluable asset to the film as Rose’s seemingly mild mannered son Peter. His character instantly becomes the explicit battleground over which Phil launches his sustained assault on Rose and any hopes of coexistence within the newfound Burbank family. Phil’s openly bullying hostility and tense proximity to Peter throughout the film is precisely what creates an ominous sense of danger and ultimately drives the story towards truly unexpected end games.

Kodi Smitt McPhee’s performance is certain to garner awards attention and firmly establishes that his talents extend far beyond playing smaller roles in blockbuster franchises like X-Men. He belongs firmly alongside top billed acting powerhouses with star billing. Although he may possibly find it a little hard to quickly shake off this career defining role as Peter.

The Bad

The Power Of The Dog has the familiar visual landscape of a traditional western, but beneath that superficial similarity of setting it is actually more of an aggressive deconstruction of the eternally popular genre than an actual true ‘Western’. While some people will welcome a sluggishly paced meditation on ‘toxic masculinity’ it obviously won’t satisfy anyone expecting the typical crowd pleasing delights of a conventional ‘western’.

While director Jane Campion might clearly intend to hijack and explicitly confront the alleged ‘myths’ of admirably heroic hyper-mascuiline cowboys  that the western genre traditionally exists to celebrate; that obviously won’t be a particularly pleasant or welcome character assignation for some audiences.

Despite the film’s attractive cinematography and arresting score, its unapologetically languid and brutal slow burn drama might still prove somewhat offputting for those that find its’ relentlessly brooding tone to be genuinely uncomfortable viewing.  Others may also find some of the films tropes about emotional repression to be a little too heavy handed in places. Leaving the film with less of a deconstructive shock value than it perhaps aspires to deliver.

The Ugly Tuth

Undeniably beautiful on screen thanks to expertly moody cinematography, The Power Of the Dog is a seemingly inevitable awards contender that will attract a large audience due to its abundant star power, though might not satisfy those seeking a more conventional western. Slow paced, bleak, serious and by turns shocking it’s a film that at the very least commands attentio

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