The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog ★★★★★

"You want me, Mr. Burbank?"

First of all, everything about this movie is extremely my shit. A psychosexual drama in a Western setting examining the corrosive, oppressive pressure of compulsory heterosexual masculinity? Yes, please. I’ve been hotly anticipating this one and I really thought it worked. Jane Campion was a good fit for the material. It’s set in Montana but filmed in New Zealand, which is an interesting substitute and contributed an otherworldly strange feeling to the setting.

It’s definitely Benedict Cumberbatch’s movie. Casting him as Phil, a filthy, homophobic, super rugged rancher seems wildly out of character, but it all makes sense if you start to think about how Phil’s maliciousness is borne from maybe being a mismatch for the role he’s chosen. When his brother’s teen stepson Peter shows up on the scene, it’s too much to endure seeing this dainty, willowy boy around, one who seems nearly unaffected by the derision and slurs the ranch hands have for him. Great performances from Kodi Smit-McPhee as the stepson, Jesse Plemons as Phil’s unflappable brother. Teeny yet great roles for Keith Carradine and Thomasin McKenzie too. Kirsten Dunst doesn’t have too much to do other than convey a massive amount of hopelessness and crushing depression, but she does it effectively.

I recently read Thomas Savage’s book upon which the movie is based, and while I loved that book, part of me wishes that I could go back and see the film first. I was comparing it very closely in my mind the entire time which was sometimes distracting, and the little signifiers about where the story goes seemed very looming (my boyfriend said he never would’ve picked up on them so maybe it is actually subtle). The other part of me was glad that I read the book first because I’d had a really different idea about what was going to happen and my mind was blown by the book’s ending. (Check out the book! It’s really great!) Knowing that the novel was written by a closeted gay man with an extremely similar background to both the characters Phil and Peter is fascinating to me.

"Deliver me from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog."

(Probably the only time I'm going to end a letterboxd review with a Bible verse, tbh.)

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