An Emotional Volcano Waiting To Erupt
The Power Of The Dog is a slow, quiet, thought provoking movie. It’s certainly not for everyone, and you absolutely need to go into this with no distractions. Make sure your phone is in the other room, shut off all the lights and settle in for a surprisingly unnerving and mature movie. There’s no hand-holding here; the themes are all scattered like puzzle pieces across the 2 hour run-time. And it’s up to you to piece them together in a way that makes sense. The beauty with this film though, is that there’s more than one solution.
The movie opens off the back of a big funeral. We don’t actually see this take place but the death of Bronco Henry weighs heavily over our characters. Like a solitary black cloud across the beautiful New Zealand skyline, the emotions are purple, bruised and ready to burst at any moment.
At the center of this bubbling pot of emotion is charismatic rancher Phil Burbank. He’s angry and wound tighter than a screw. He invokes fear and wonder in all those around him. When his brother George brings home a new wife in Rose and her “half-wit” son Peter, Phil lashes out at the changes in his life.
What’s particularly clever here though is the way The Power Of The Dog doesn’t lay everything out with big exposition dumps and on-the-nose dialogue. The script also has a very clever way of shifting your feelings toward each of the characters across the run-time.
Take Phil (brought to life in absolute perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch.) You begin by hating the man, shaking your head at his petty quips toward Peter and calling his brother fatso. And yet, as the movie progresses, his pent-up anger manifests into grief, as we finally understand his ties to Bronco Henry. We’re not told though, but through some clever visual cues (like a cloth with the initials B.H. on) we come to empathize with the emotionally torn rancher.
Likewise, Peter’s character begins as this timid, shy boy who soon grows to become something much more surprising. The only character here who remains pretty unlikable most of the way through is Rose, although Kirsten Dunst brings this character to life beautifully.
As I said before, The Power Of The Dog won’t be for everyone. A lot of people will come away from this bemoaning how boring and slow this movie is. And it’s definitely a slow burn.
The Power of the Dog knows this, even throwing in a beautiful metaphor during its midway point. Phil is constantly fascinated by something on the horizon, up on the hills. “Is it an animal?” One of the cowhand asks. It’s not, as it turns out, and only Peter can see what Phil sees – something deeper in the shadows that’s significantly more meaningful than just rolling hills.
And that metaphor ultimately extends to the movie as a whole. Some people will come away and see this as a laborious test of patience, going absolutely nowhere. Others will see this as a test of character; a human drama about not judging a book by its cover. More still will see this as the ultimate revenge thriller. Either way, The Power of the Dog will resonate strongly with some and for those (myself included), this is a strangely enticing Western drama that’s easily one of the best movies this year.
Verdict - 9/10