I’m very much in the minority on this one: I didn’t love the film The Power of the Dog, by acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano). Me, who likes the understated, who appreciates the quiet story, found myself restless, even bored at times while watching the movie.

The drawling narrative focuses on two brothers, wealthy ranchers in Montana in 1925. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the classic macho cowboy, Phil, while Jesse Plemons, who I admired in Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad, is the nice brother, George.

While on a cattle drive to the market, the cowboy crew stops at a restaurant/inn where they meet the widowed proprietress, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is about to head off to college. Phil behaves cruelly toward both of them, while George has other plans: he returns later and marries Rose, bringing her back to the family ranch, where complications ensue.

Phil continues to bully Rose—and later bullies Peter when he shows up. Soon Rose is drinking heavily, but George defends his wife. I wanted to know more about that storyline, but the real tension takes place between Phil and the young Peter, whose manner is awkward and dare I use the word effeminate. Phil is disgusted by Peter but also secretly attracted to him, and the answer to this riddle is what drives the narrative, slowly.

The problem for me is that I didn’t really care which way the relationship between Phil and Peter was going to turn because I felt that Phil was not a complex character struggling with change but a stock cowboy with a poorly-kept secret glommed onto him in order to create conflict and story. The mystery wasn’t there for me, nor did I find the ending surprising and ambiguous as many reviewers stated.

The acting was first-rate all around. The settings were gorgeous. Many individual scenes were compelling. But as a whole, I thought the narrative dragged. The movie received a dozen academy award nominations. So I may have missed something. Or it’s true what they say: there’s no accounting for taste.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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