Power of the Dog

Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021) wr. Jane Campion, novel by Thomas Savage; Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst

I was surprised that so little happened. Phil (Cumberbatch) looks foreboding, and it's set in Montana, so one expects some gunslinging, because it looks like a Western. But no, it's not that kind of flick.

Campion has always been interested in deviations from the norm, and this story is timely in its disturbance of conventional gender expectations. I expect it's for that kind of reason that it will do good business.

Cinematographically, I was disappointed, because the editor does not allow us long enough to look at grand vistas before we are harried back to the story. I don't blame Ari Wegner: his photography is gorgeous. I don't even blame the editor, Peter Schiberras, as I suspect Campion will have kept him under tight control, maybe even editing in the camera, in the sense of not giving him enough footage of landscape to indulge viewers like me. I don't know who edited for John Ford, but I think both of them knew that lots of long shots of Monument Valley would work well. Whereas in this film there are just too many shots of Cumberbatch looking ridiculous walking in his chaps (he even has them on in bed in one scene). OK, they're symbolic, I get that, but we didn't need to see them in every scene (except of course in the scene where he's au naturel and daubing himself with mud. Why is it grey, by the way? Brown would have prettier.)

I think Cumberbatch was miscast. Not that he's not up to playing the role: he can do just about anything. But why get an Englishman to portray an American plainsman when there must have been two or three Americans available who didn't have to learn the accent? In fact, I think everyone was miscast. Even Jesse Plemons, and he grew up in Dallas TX. I know his character is meant to be ineffectual, but that doesn't have to apply to his acting as well. OK, Kirsten Dunst passes. But not Genevieve Lemon: Sweetie in Montana? I think not. Kodi Fancy-Name was good in Romulus My Father and The Road when he was a child, but now that's he all growed way up to be 6ft tall and 6 inches wide, he's only suitable for character roles like Andrew Aguecheek. I was hoping his career had gone down the toilet in 2067, but apparently Jane didn't see that one.

And, finally, made in Aotearoa? I'm not quibbling about the landscape. Wherever it is (and for all I know it's all CGI) it's impressive. But I think you can tell by almost all of the accents and the behaviour of everyone, even the multitudes that you can imagine behind the camera, that we're not in Kansas anymore, Tonto.

Owen Gleiberman:
... Campion’s eighth feature in 30 years is a frontier Western made with a stately and austere poker-faced modernist classicism, and roiling undercurrents, that sometimes bring [The Piano] to mind. It’s a movie in which Campion, who shot it in her native New Zealand, works with a full-scale, at times painterly precision and control. It’s also a socially conscious psychodrama that builds, over time, to a full boil.
Yet there’s a key difference between this movie and The Piano. In the earlier film, Holly Hunter played a woman who chose not to speak but declaimed her spirit with the most enthralling inner voice of any movie character that year. In The Power of the Dog, the characters have secrets, buried motives, hidden drives, yet the filmmaker treats them all, in a certain way, like puzzle pieces, fitting them into a grand scheme that connects with the audience in an overly programmatic way. The film’s message is unassailable, but that isn’t the same thing as devastating, which is what The Power of the Dog wants to be. Variety. ... [How could a message be assailed?]

David Rooney:
... The title of Savage’s novel comes from Psalm 22:20 in the Bible: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.” That Old Testament prayer for the protection of loved ones from enemies has clear correlations within the story. But the film’s enigmatic qualities are fueled also by a rock formation in the mountains behind the homestead, which only Phil is able to see, until Peter immediately identifies the outline of a barking dog. That mystical element connects the human drama of these four conflicted people to the landscape itself in ways that echo the classic Western while also providing a bracingly modern take on the genre. Hollywood Reporter.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 27 December, 2021 | Now: 30 December, 2021