The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog ★★★★½

At first, Phil, Benedict Cumberbach’s character in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, seems almost cartoonishly cruel. He browbeats seemingly everyone for not being as manly as he is. He attacks his brother George (Jesse Plemons), his brother’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and Rose’s effeminate son Pete  (Kodi Smit-McPhee). There doesn’t seem to be much to Phil beyond a propensity for clinging to his brother at all costs, and avoiding bathing at all costs.

As the film goes on, though, microscopic cracks in Phil’s seemingly impenetrable veneer begin to show. As George and Rose recede into the background, Pete proves to be a more worthy opponent than initially anticipated. The Power of the Dog doesn’t feature a grand showdown between good and evil, or the old ways versus the new. It foregrounds two men exerting their wills in very different ways, and in the hands of Campion, the battle is both fascinating and understated. The term anti-western could simply mean a cowboy movie without guns, but The Power of the Dog truly does something new. Campion gonna Campion.

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