Complete A-Z list

Power of the Dog, The


Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, Alice Englert, Alison Bruce

Director: Jane Campion

Though set on a Montana cattle ranch in 1925, this extremely slow film is not really a western, more a drama of psychosexual tension.
Phil (Cumberbatch) and George (Plemons) are the chalk-and-cheese co-owners of the ranch. Phil is an educated, but rough-spoken and leather-tough frontiersman who bullies his meeker brother and loses little opportunity to tease him about his weight.

But he also a man who daubs himself in mud before plunging naked into the nearby river.

Meeting in the cantina where the ranchhands meet, run by the widowed Rose (Dunst), who also plays piano for silent films, and her effete son Peter (Smit-McPhee) who likes making paper flowers for the dining tables and is the butt of the cowboys' none-too-gentle humour, George becomes attracted to Rose and marries her, to the chagrin of Phil, who tells the fragile widow 'I'm not your brother. You're a cheap schemer.' Intimidated beyond endurance by Phil's ever-threatening presence, Rose takes to drink.

This is a film packed with awkward pauses from people who, to recall Cool Hand Luke's famous phrase, suffer from a failure to communicate. So just what is Phil's problem? It isn't hard to guess, and plays a part in the dark climax.

Exquisitely shot in New Zealand, the movie conveys well, if at too great a length, the barren and arid countryside surrounding the ranch. The acting's good, too, although Plemons is perhaps a little too mild, but, for me at least, the pacing just kills it.

David Quinlan

Australia/New Zealand 2021. UK Distributor: Netflix. Colour (unspecified).
127 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 17 Nov 2021