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‘The Power of the Dog’: Shoo-in for Oscar Best Picture

The movie, based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and set in the 1920s amid the stunning hills of Montana, is a tale of pent-up rage and self-hate. The central character is Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a toxic bully rancher.

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The Power of the Dog, now streaming on Netflix, recently won Best Motion Picture Drama at the recent Golden Globe Awards. It is a shoo-in for the 94th Academy Awards for Best Picture.

The film, based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and set in the 1920s amid the stunning hills of Montana, is a tale of pent-up rage and self-hate. The central character is Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a toxic bully rancher.

Benedict Cumberbatch stands out in his performance as Phil Burbank.

Rich, dirty, and flanked by his minion cowhands, Phil mocks his own brother, George (Jesse Plemons), slaps a horse’s face repeatedly, and makes fun of an effeminate teenager, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the boy’s widowed mom, Rose (Kirsten Dunst).

While Cumberbatch is menacing as Phil, you cannot truly despise him. His beady eyes evoke a deep well of pain, arousing sympathy for a troubled man.

 

KIRSTEN Dunst as a widow in the tale of pent-up rage and self-hate.

Strange, however, that Rose marries George and lives with him in the family mansion — even if Phil also lives there. Rose, too weak to roll her eyes at her insufferable brother-in-law, succumbs to self-destruction. Dunst’s portrayal is one-dimensional, but her role is necessary to propel the plot into its unexpected conclusion.

Overall, The Power of the Dog is compelling. With its sparse dialogue, minimal action and glowing performance by Cumberbatch, this period drama is gripping for its complex psychological undertones.

As the tale unfolds, you’d think it’s heading towards Call Me by Your Name territory — Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Oscar-nominated gay love story.

But it’s not.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF NETFLIX
BENEDICT Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons are two wealthy Montana ranchers in ‘The Power of the Dog.’

Directed by Jane Campion, (1993’s The Piano), The Power of the Dog is one of the best films of 2021. You understand why she won Best Director at 78th Venice Film Festival and the 78th Golden Globes.

Campion’s austere, seamless direction is hypnotic, pulling you into the fractured soul of a sad, complicated rancher and his object of interest, Peter, whose character arc is terrific.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon.

Campion’s genius is evident in the movie’s blistering subtexts. Sure, the visuals are striking, punctuated with a subtly dark film score. But the real triumph of the film is how Campion plants quietly explosive metaphors.

I would not be surprised if she wins the 2022 Oscar Best Director.

 

4 out of 5 stars
Stream on Netflix

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