TIFF21: “THE POWER OF THE DOG” REVIEW
Review by David Baldwin
Cattle ranchers George and Phil Burbank (Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch) have made a successful enterprise for themselves in Montana circa 1925. Phil rules the men they employ with an iron fist, while George is a bit more wholesome and understanding. George takes to widow Rose (Kristen Dunst) after meeting her at a restaurant stop and quickly marries her much to Phil’s chagrin. When she and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) move into the Burbank family home however, Phil starts making things difficult for everyone.
Academy Award-winning Co-Writer/Director Jane Campion return to feature filmmaking after a decade long hiatus is a methodical and deliberately paced take on a Western. I would not call it revisionist as others have, yet it does very much feel like a deconstruction of a classic American genre. There are no real heroes and villains here – just troubled individuals trying their best to get on with their lives and not doing a great job of it. Campion’s pacing varies throughout the Film, with some scenes being particular zippy and others slowed to a crawl. She captures the intimacy and heartache of the old West (with gorgeous New Zealand vistas subbing in for Montana) but is more interested in the feelings of her characters than she is in anything else. I would never call THE POWER OF THE DOG boring, though will admit that it may be a great challenge for some viewers to get through.
The Production Design and costuming are sumptuous and Jonny Greenwood’s brooding score is absolutely brilliant, morphing from something soft and sweet to horrific and overbearing faster than you can snap your fingers. Plemons and Smit-McPhee are great in their roles, though they end up getting lost in the margins of some sections. Red hot Thomasin McKenzie (also at TIFF ’21 with Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho) pops-up as a house servant, yet really has no bearing on the story. And while Dunst gives it her all, transforming into a desperate and anxious alcoholic over the course of the Film’s running time, THE POWER OF THE DOG belongs entirely to Cumberbatch. Never have I hated a character so thoroughly and viscerally within seconds of seeing him pop up on screen. He is an absolute monster here, spewing acidic and vile remarks carelessly and genuinely toxifying everything around him just by being present. Cumberbatch’s performance feels lived-in, with even his most tender moments still coming off as repulsive. This is easily a career best performance for the Oscar-nominated thespian, whom Doctor Strange fans will not recognize whatsoever. Do not be surprised if he becomes the front-runner for Best Actor.
THE POWER OF THE DOG screens at TIFF’ 21:
Fri, Sep 10 Princess of Wales 5:00 PM
Fri, Sep 10 VISA Skyline Drive-In at Ontario Place 8:30 PM
Fri, Sep 10 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 9:00 PM
Fri, Sep 17 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 1:00 PM
Sat, Sep 18 TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 3:00 PM