‘Power of the Dog’ is subtle and full of qualities – but will it be the best movie of the year?
Jane Campion’s production has been nominated for an impressive 12 Oscars. You can watch the film on Netflix and read the NiT review.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee are nominated.
The nominees for the 2022 Oscars were announced this week. Among all the films competing for golden statuettes, one stands out: “The Power of the Dog” leads the way with an impressive 12 nominations. It’s no surprise that Jane Campion’s film is a top favorite given all the buzz and publicity going on around it. However, it’s possible that a significant portion of the public may not find the film all that great.
Power of the Dog has been available on Netflix since early December. After the Oscar nominations, the film was increasingly seen on the streaming platform – in Portugal it has experienced an upward trend in the past few days. Google searches for the end of the story are also increasing — which is so subtle it can go unnoticed. Especially when it comes to a movie being watched on streaming where there are a lot of breaks and distractions from home.
This is a story that takes a long time to unfold. For much of the film, Jane Campion leads us – to the viewers – to believe that this is an “environmental” film. We immersed ourselves in this unconventional western environment (after all, Montana was filmed in New Zealand in the 1920s), in the costumes of the characters, in the hostile aura that is characteristic of the Wild West.
In fact, you’re only assembling the parts that will come into play later. Phil and George Burbank are two brothers who run a ranch. Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is smart and respected by the workers, but rude in every way. By comparison, George (Jesse Plemons) is docile, polite, and has high-class ambitions that are evident throughout the narrative.
One day, George meets and falls in love with Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a young widow with a teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The boy, who has already been homophobically teased by Phil, goes outside to study. Rose moves into the Burbank mansion, much to Phil’s chagrin. He and his brother are portrayed as being one to some extent – sleeping in the same room, in their small beds, more like two children than the grown men they are.
Phil and perhaps the pressures of remarriage will eventually lead Rose to depression and alcoholism. This is the state in which Peter finds his mother when he comes home from the school holidays. Peter’s arrival at the ranch won’t be easy either, as he’s not used to such a rural life and among these brutal men who make fun of him.
Unexpectedly, Peter and Phil grow closer. Phil will teach you how to ride a horse and do some ranch chores. There’s a parallel between the two and the time Phil learned from mythical mentor Bronco Henry, who spends his days hanging out with idols. At this point, the story progresses, takes on a homoerotic dimension, and comes to a shocking ending that many don’t understand at first. But the clues are all there – this is Peter’s vendetta for his mother.
The plot is based on the book of the same name by Thomas Savage, published in 1967, inspired by some real-life experiences. The author was gay and spent much of his life in the American West.
The film is great in the sense that it does the best job of setting the mood and then moving it to a low key – but intense – climax. The worst thing is that the script isn’t explicit enough to justify certain choices or feelings of the characters. What we don’t understand is that Phil is driving Rose straight into misery. The causal connection is not apparent at all. Phil and George’s initial relationship doesn’t convince us either – they always seem too distant, never plausible.
However, Power of the Dog is a visually pleasing film with a slow rhythm that intrigues us and great roles. First there is the work of Briton Benedict Cumberbatch, who disappears completely into Phil’s dirty and rough skin. Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee are also very good in their characters – although they may not deserve an Oscar. It’s a subtle film with qualities that reveal itself at the end and deserve recognition. Jane Campion is a filmmaker of merit. But will it really be the best of the year? We have big doubts. That’s not always the most important thing at the Oscars.
Click on the gallery to see where you can see other Oscar nominees.