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Rated 3.03 stars
by 152 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
One of 2021's Best Films
by James Colt Harrison

Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion, a formidable film director from New Zealand, is the second woman ever nominated for director at the Academy Awards®.  Her nomination was for The Piano (1993). She also won the Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay. Plus, she earned the prestigious Palm d’Or for the film. Although she hasn’t made a feature film since 2009’s Bright Star, she occupied herself creating two miniseries for television, “Top of the Lake” (2013) and “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” (2017). Most recently she won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for directing The Power of the Dog, which bodes well for being considered in the next Oscar® nominations.

Campion wrote the script of The Power of the Dog from the novel as written by Thomas Savage. The story takes place in Montana where brothers Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) run a successful ranch. Although filmed in New Zealand, the landscape and  majestic mountains could very well be in Montana. The wide-open spaces captured by cinematographer Ari Wegner’s cameras are beautiful to behold.

In plain language, Phil is kindly what one would call a miserable s.o.b. He is the opposite of brother George, a man of quiet demeanor, a soft-spoken man of kindly actions. Plemons, one of my favorite character-stars, is perfect in his role and shows strength of another kind beyond his brother Phil’s mean and ornery behavior. George lives under his brother’s domineering personality. Phil is well-educated and constantly needs to prove his toughness and strength. Actor Cumberbatch manages to have an evil look in his eyes and a viper’s tongue that he uses to belittle or cut down everyone in his path. Cumberbatch is, of course, an accomplished actor, so the audience immediately hates him as his portrayal is real, accurate, and frightening. 

George wants nothing more than to spend his life in happiness. As such, he meets comely Rose, a woman who owns a cowboy restaurant in town. She is superbly played by Kirsten Dunst, who just happens to be Plemons’ wife in real life. They get married and live under the same roof as Phil. Rose has a young son, the sensitive and fey Peter, who is studying to become a doctor. Peter is played in a break-out role by Kodi Smit-McFee and is sure to win accolades for his quiet, yet determined, boy who wants to protect his mother

Phil is purely evil and torments Rose, which drives her to drink. Although all the other cowboys make fun of Peter and think he is gay, he is tentatively taken under the wing of Phil, who tries to teach him how to be a so-called man or cowboy. Peter finds some incriminating evidence in Phil’s secret hideout that point toward possible sexual differences. With Phil’s renewed interest in being kind to Peter, the kid figures out that he may have more than a passing interest in exploring anatomy in a medical way.

Campion has crafted a sensational ending in which the audience may ponder what exactly happened. It may leave you scratching your head, but it’s fascinating to say the least. Did Peter succumb to Phil’s proclivities to save his mother from torment? We don’t know that, but we are left trying to figure out just what was the cause of the astounding finale. Fabulous, to say the least. This is one of the best films of the year.

(Released by Netflix and rated “R” for brief sexual content/ full frontal nudity.)

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