The Power of the Dog | Third Space

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion returns
Thu 13 Jan 2022

4 out of 5 stars

Jane Campion is one of the most celebrated directors of the past few decades. She paused her career after making films like The Piano, Holy Smoke! and Bright Star to her credit. She remained relatively quiet for over ten years until her return with The Power of the Dog. With this global production and cast, Campion won the Venice Film Festival's Best Director’s Award and looks to be a contender for many more in the months to come.

Filmed in New Zealand, but set in 1925 Montana, we are introduced to the Burbank Brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). Ranchers who have been left in charge of their family’s expansive cattle station at the foothill of the mountains. Despite being close throughout their lives, they are two different men. George is the introverted and reserved bookkeeper who limits his calculated interactions to few words and even less emotion. While his brother is the epitome of the outdoorsman and cowboy-masculinity. His abrasive nature allows him to rally their cattle hands and to bully his brother and any other person who does not fit his definition of humanity.

While they bring in this herd to be shipped off to the stockyards, George falls for the local restaurant owner, Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst. After the couple secretly marries, the restaurant owner and widow moves to the ranch with her intelligent and waif-like son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Like a fish out of water in this hyper-masculine atmosphere, Rose turns to the bottle for solace. At the same time, her son becomes the target of incessant bullying by Phil and the men. Until Peter learns a secret about the ranch owner and this young man begins to build into an unlikely friendship with this man, things change for the family.

With each character having their own distinctive character arc, the New Zealand director manages to keep the audience off-balance and unaware of the actual intent of her tale until the very end. Even then, it may take some time to realise what has just transpired on the screen. At times it has illusions to Legends of the Fall, then seems to move to Call Me By Your Name, then concludes as an ever-so-subtle and brilliantly woven psychological thriller. This proves that the Academy Award-winning writer has not lost her magical ability to pen a masterful screenplay. One that will have audiences travelling in one direction, while having them arriving at a completely different location.

Another element of Campion’s reputation and magnetism is to surround herself with some of the world’s most remarkable talent. Cumberbatch, Dunst and Plemons fill their roles out with superb form. While this will prove to be one of Benedict Cumberbatch’s best roles of an already illustrious career. Still, the crown jewel of this production is found in the under-stated performance of Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee. His character manages to hide the actual intent of this whole film while leaving hints for us throughout the storyline. Yet, each role and actor has been carefully chosen to convey this tragic and twisted psychological journey.

Like most film productions out of Australasia, The Power of the Dog will reach in and rip out the viewer's heart and provide little relief or apology for the pain it causes. Much of the content is meant for mature, discerning audiences who can appreciate the artistry that mixes mental illness, suicide, and sexuality for deftly woven dramatic effect.

REEL DIALOGUE: Lies and secrets tend to expose themselves

"Lies beget more lies: once you start lying you have to keep lying more and more to hide the lies that you already told."

You may be able to hear the words of your mother on the topic of lying. One lie can begin a chain of events that only come to a resolution when the truth comes out. Even when we try to hide elements of our past, something usually occurs. In their time, they typically manage to find their way out into the open. Do not lie is not exclusive to the Bible. Still, it is a moral code that can save relationships and reputations. While with The Power of The Dog, it can save lives.

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. - Proverbs 19:9