Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Power of the Dog

Movie Name:
The Power of the Dog
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKensie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy, Peter Carroll, Alison Bruce, Alice Englert, Kenneth Radley, George Mason
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Director Jane Campion has returned, after her celebrated "Bright Star" and the mini-series "Top of the Lake". "The Power of the Dog" is an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage, and focuses its narrative on two ranch owning brothers, Phil and George Burbank. The story which takes place in 1925 in Montana, gains momentum once George falls in love with a widow by the name of Rose, who at the time is running an inn, alongside her young son, Peter. George and Rose soon marry, and Peter goes to college to study medicine. Rose moves to the ranch, and Phil can't hide his dislike of her, treating her rather cruelly. As Rose starts to get affected by these turns of events, a dinner party organized by George further cements her anguish, since she is unable to play the piano as she used to (something that Phil openly mocks her about). By the time Peter comes back to the ranch for Summer break, Rose has become an alcoholic. The meek Peter is openly mocked by everyone on the ranch, but Phil starts paying attention to him, and soon they're developing a closer relationship, which further sends Rose into a downward spiral.  
Jane Campion's films have always been uniquely insightful observations on the roles women play in society, and how patriarchy seemingly tries to box them and fit them into clearly categorized roles. That was something that permeated across "Sweetie", "An Angel at My Table", "The Piano", "The Portrait of a Lady" and even the maligned "In the Cut". In "The Power of the Dog" Ms. Campion turns her attention to a different canvas, namely she has chosen to tackle the roles of masculinity, homosexuality and once more, how they manifest themselves in insecurities and the oppression of femininity (both directly in women and men). It's a particularly rich canvas to work on, since the narrative takes place in the early years of the 20th century, when the advancement of technology, of roles in society, were all rapidly shifting, and at the core of this narrative, is a man who is living within roles he has accepted, but that he fights against. In a way, Peter and his meek and slender appearance, which to some characters in the film render him effeminate, both represent a transgression on these roles, but also the dawn of a new thought process, of an ambiguous way to interpret nature and relate to it. As Peter disrupts Phil's existence, Rose in her role both as a mother and as a female figure of desire, gets shaken to her core, for she too understands how the roles aren't quite as transparent as she initially thought. It's a beautifully rendered film, that slowly unveils itself, with a devastating final chapter, one that the director peppers with sensuality and eroticism, that extends beyond the characters themselves. The cast is uniformly fantastic, with Benedict Cumberbatch possibly crafting one of his most indelible roles thus far, with great support from the wonderful Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and the quietly unassuming Kodi Smit-McPhee. The cinematography from Ari Wegner is stunning, as is the score from Jonny Greenwood (though it does have "There Will Be Blood" flashes here in there), production design from Grant Major and costumes from Kirsty Cameron. A beautiful film from one of cinema's most uniquely talented voices.