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“The Power of the Dog”–Bad Dogs Barking Loud

Guest Reviewer Densie Webb  (International Book Award finalist for When Robins Appear)

This slow-spun Western, sparingly based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, is set on a fictional sprawling ranch in 1920s Montana (filmed in New Zealand). Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog centers on the dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship of two brothers, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (of “Sherlock Holmes”, “Dr. Strange”, and “The Imitation Game”) as Phil and Jesse Plemons (of “Breaking Bad” and “Friday Night Lights”) as George. Kirsten Dunst (“Fargo”, season 2) plays Rose, the love interest/interloper, who disrupts the established rhythm of the ranch and the brothers’ relationship, when she marries George and brings along her teenage son, Peter, (played by an other-worldly newcomer, Kodi Smith-McPhee).

In an against-type casting, Cumberbatch is an abrasive, sadistic cowboy, who cares only for his brother and grieves for another cowboy who has passed away. (One reviewer dubbed it “Brokeback Sociopath.”) Rose becomes Phil’s primary target, and the humiliation he subjects her to is uncomfortable to view.  Even his brother can’t escape Phil’s cruelty and insults. The two-hour-plus film can be excruciatingly slow, leaving viewers wondering what’s actually happening and where it’s going. It’s imbued with an ominous feeling of dread as you wait for the point of the story to be made. But it’s not until the last few scenes that it’s slowly revealed that young Peter, not Phil, is the true antagonist of the story.

The Power of the Dog is a movie that you will likely love or hate but viewers can, at the very least, appreciate the dark themes. I fall into that third category. I appreciated the acting, the cinematography, and the ability to inflict powerful feelings with a spareness of dialogue, but it was, at times, difficult to watch.

Availability:  Netflix streaming

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