I remembered The Power Of the Dog having quite a bit of buzz last summer, so now that it’s available on Netflix, I thought I’d give it a try to see what the critics liked so much.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, The Power Of the Dog takes place in 1925 on a ranch in Montana. Two brothers, Phil and George, run the ranch, but they seem to be drifting apart. Phil, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a supposed genius who prefers dirt and livestock, while George, played by Jesse Plemons, wants to settle down and join high society. George meets a widowed woman named Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst, and her nearly grown son Peter, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. George and Rose marry, move into the brothers’ massive home with her son in tow, and Phil promptly makes everyone’s lives miserable because he is a malcontent in the truest sense of the word. However, though he once ridiculed Peter’s effeminate mannerisms, Phil soon befriends the young man, just as an older man named Bronco Henry once befriended him. However, Phil’s relentless bullying of Rose proves a real problem for Peter, one that he simply won’t let go.
If I used one word to describe The Power Of the Dog, it would be “subtle.” The audience is led to suspect many, many things about every character in this movie ranging from homosexuality to murder, but nothing is ever explicitly on display. And even though there is little to no action in the movie, and even though it moves at a slow, uncomfortable pace, I found myself mesmerized by both the acting and the fact that it forced me to watch and think from start to finish.
Of course, the real star of the movie is the beautiful scenery. Though it’s supposed to be Montana in the early 1900s, I’ve read that New Zealand served as the film’s actual location. The hills and countryside in this movie are simply breathtaking. I recommend the film for the cinematography alone.
But do I recommend the film in general? Not for the casual viewer, no. I don’t think those looking for a popcorn experience would find this particularly enjoyable. For those interested in character studies or filmmaking, though, I think The Power Of the Dog would prove quite thought-provoking.