There are always films that have Oscar buzz before they’re even released. Whether it’s the power of the genre, a killer trailer, or a filmmaking team torn from our dreams, they make us see them just because of their “it” factors. In this TIFF review of The Power of the Dog, we’re going to take a look at how this movie did all of these things. Is it time for Benedict Cumberbatch to win an Oscar? Is Jane Campion coming back into the spotlight? Or is this film just bark and not a bite?
The Power of the Dog Review – From TIFF to Netflix
Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog is sometimes referred to as a forgotten masterpiece. The western follows respected ranchers Phil and George Burbank, brothers who couldn’t be further apart in personality. George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) is a friendly, loving man who would like to invite the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to his home. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil, on the other hand, takes pleasure in scaring anyone who approaches his sanctum.
On paper, this book is something that we are surprised at that took so long to adapt. It’s a slow burning, dramatic, and unpredictable story about love and hate. But Netflix has been trying to attract more intense gamers in order to cement itself as an award-winning streamer, and this all-star cast and crew could be the ones to do it.
Director Jane Campion, the second woman to be nominated for an Oscar for best director and first to win the Palme d’Or (both for The Piano in 1993), is stepping back from behind the camera for the film. Western dramas are not easy to love, so we are delighted to see that such a dark and challenging story falls into the right hands.
Image via Netflix.
Why do you have to see this western?
I will not lie. I’m usually not a fan of westerns. The 2018 Sisters Brothers was one of the biggest disappointments in recent history. Meek’s Cutoff shows the grueling struggles of survival phenomenally, but has ultimately been forgotten. Rare gems are hidden in the dozen of 1900 westerns, but it’s certainly not a genre that gets viewers to queue up in the theater. But with The Power of the Dog you promise something bigger.
The marketing behind this film focuses on Cumberbatch’s Phil and how feared he is of a man. He’s a great rancher and knows his way around the desert, but he sees power in his ability to torment. He is the top dog and therefore demands the attention of everyone around him. But when Rose shows up and threatens his attention, everything goes wrong.
Don’t let the trailer fool you. If you expect Cumberbatch to scream, hit, or kill, you won’t have the best viewing experience. Instead of being a loud demonstration of masculinity that so often scares us of the men on the big screen, Campion goes more intimately into what scares us. She masterfully navigates explaining how a desperate man can make everyone around him suffer just because of his relentless approach. And if you’re the mom of a boy who’s already gone through the wringers, you’ll want to challenge them.
Image via Netflix.
This is not Benedict Cumberbatch’s film
As mentioned earlier, Benedict Cumberbatch is causing quite a stir, which points to a nomination for best actor. And so I went to my TIFF screening of this film and expected a wow moment from the English actor. I waited and waited, but it didn’t come. He is competent, safe. Aside from one brief scene in which actors huddled around a piano in a room that was too large for their own good, I was ultimately unimpressed.
But Cumberbatch’s lack of amazing self is not an insult to his acting skills. Instead, it’s a compliment to Dunsts. We’ve been impressed with her before, but her recent filmography has continued to land her in comedic, boring, or supporting roles. The Power of the Dog gives the actress breathing space by taking away her voice. She is exceptional as a grieving, alcoholic mother who desperately tries to keep an eye on Peter while begging someone to look after the danger Phil poses to her family.
In addition to Dunst’s outstanding achievement, our eyes stay on Kodi Smit-McPhee as a young boy learning the surgical trade. His role does not have a charismatic bone in his body, but we cannot look away from his mysterious and poetic approach to pain.
Image via Netflix.
Our review of the power of the dog makes you want more
Like most western films, this one is almost frustratingly long and has moments when we wonder why we are watching this. But the ultimate payoff is more than enough. My expectations were confused, but I walked away and went straight to the bookstore for a copy of Thomas Savage’s original story.
You don’t have to wait long if you want to find out more about why this review of The Power of the Dog is so delighted. The film will be released in limited editions on November 17, 2021 before it goes to streaming on Netflix on December 1. It is not what you expect, but you will be on a journey to hell.
Featured image via Netflix.
Meghan Hale is the kind of movie lover who has a “must-watch” that’s a mile long … and growing. When she’s not talking about the latest movie and television news, she’s writing one of her many ongoing novels, yelling at everyone who listens with movie trivia, and working as a psychologist. Follow her on Twitter @meghanrhale for some fun theories and live reactions on any topic of conversation.