Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the poss... Read allCharismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.
In 1925, the Burbank brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) run a successful cattle ranch in Montana. One day while heading toward the markets, the brothers stop by a restaurant operated by the recently widowed Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The hot-headed Phil treats the mother and son pair cruelly but the kind-hearted George feels drawn towards Rose, culminating in a romantic relationship and eventually marriage. Refusing to accept them into the family, Phil continues his mistreatment of Rose and Pete until he soon sees the value in taking the latter under his wing as a new protégé.
There haven't been too many good Western films made recently. The genre is growing stale and feels as though it is on its way out. It also doesn't help that it has already been combined with virtually every other genre imaginable ranging from horror to science fiction. A film like "The Power of the Dog" attempts to go for a relatively straightforward Western experience with its basic setting on a ranch but it ultimately falls short of greatness.
Although I wouldn't exactly call it boring, I didn't find myself particularly invested in the story. The basic plot is just the Burbank brothers working on their ranch with the occasional angry outburst from Phil. The stark contrast between Phil's overtly aggressive demeanour and George's gentle nature is never properly explored. It is hinted that they have inherited the ranch from their father but aside from that, we are never told important background information about what they were like before his passing. This is a missed opportunity as I wish we could have seen which of the brothers takes after their father the most. A plotline involving the siblings competing with each other over which of them is more worthy of being in charge of the family business would have made for a much more interesting film, however, the two of them are shown to get along reasonably well. Even with Phil's outward hostility towards Rose and Pete isn't enough to put a strain on the brothers' familial closeness. Instead, George just seems to brush it off as a minor inconvenience.
Jane Campion, who wrote and directed the 1993 classic "The Piano", tries her hand here with the Western genre. She shows the vast sweeping landscape of the American mid-west and some creative camera angles to emphasise how small humans look in comparison. Unfortunately, moments like this are so fleeting that they barely leave an impact. Each time it seemed like the film was about to blow me away with epic visuals, the scene would abruptly end. It's a huge shame because I loved how Campion was able to immerse the audience in colonial era New Zealand in "The Piano" so it's surprising she wasn't able to replicate similar techniques here. I'm not sure if it's her inexperience with Westerns in general or if she's just simply lost her way over the years but I felt underwhelmed with what she presented to us here.
One of the few redeeming features of this film is the quality of its acting. Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty convincing as a ranch owner with a short temper. Even though his character seemed underwritten, I liked what Cumberbatch was able to do with the material given to him. His unpredictability was one of the main reasons the film wasn't a total bore, as it kept me in suspense over what he would do next. Additionally, his American accent has improved considerably over the years, not at all sounding slightly British like it used to in the past. He also shared decent chemistry with Jesse Plemons as his brother, but as I mentioned earlier, I wish the film did a better job at exploring the fraternal relationship between the two of them.
In conclusion, "The Power of the Dog" simply doesn't do enough to help revitalise the dying Western genre. Though there's nothing outright terrible about it, as there are some things that prevent the film from being a complete failure, there's nothing really worth recommending either. Coming from an otherwise talented filmmaker like Jane Campion, this is especially disappointing.
I rate it 5/10.
- Sep 16, 2021