The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog ★★½

TIFF 2021

THE POWER OF THE DOG is a gorgeous-looking new film from Jane Campion. Set in Montana, and shot in New Zealand, it features a vast, barren landscape. There are rolling hills in the background, but in the fore, there’s a lonely, singular ranch in the centre of a flat, trampled plain. This is a wonderfully visualized space for this film, the story of a nasty rancher Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), his dandy brother George (Jesse Plemons), and George’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and stepson Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Although it takes place in front of an elegant backdrop, THE POWER OF THE DOG is a slow-moving affair that believes that it gets somewhere by its end. Honestly, it doesn’t, or at least not as far is it thinks it does.

The centrepiece of the film is Benedict Cumberbatch’s bombastic, moody cowboy Phil and his journey to reconcile his lack of an ability to connect with people. He’s crass and rude, and is deeply mean-spirited at times. During his softer moments, he’s a short-tempered, unlikeable brute. Cumberbatch burst onto the North American scene about a decade ago via a flurry of roles that spoke to a thespian with great range. Roles in SHERLOCK, WAR HORSE, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE HOBBIT, and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS made his casting in DOCTOR STRANGE and Oscar nomination for THE IMITATION GAME palatable if not expected. However, despite his résumé, he’s yet to show his talent is without limits. In this, he’s regrettably inconsistent and at times awkward, frequently feeling as if he’s going through the motions as a stage actor trying to project his cowboy persona to the last row. In fairness to him, some of it is in the script, as he’s tasked with making lines like the following not sound stupid: “Bloody tootin’”; “Well, open your talker”; and “What’s in your noodle?” At the same time, though, he physically embodies Phil with an awkward wide-gait western-mosey and an attitude that stealing the scene involves yelling loudest. There is no nuance to Cumberbatch’s performance that would justify his loud, bullish behaviour—and this is a film that by its end needs some inwardness to buy into its emotional climax.

Check out my full review at CLAPPERLTD.CO.UK

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