A vast stretch of hot, dusty terrain fills the screen as a sweat-glistened cowboy glares in disgust at a young boy, sharply dressed in white, stepping foot onto his ranch.
The Power of the Dog, written and directed by Jane Campion stood out during the Golden Globes on Jan. 29. The film was nominated for seven Golden Globe awards this year, winning three, including best drama.
The Power of the Dog follows the lives of two brothers and ranchers named Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). They live in a mansion they inherited from their parents.
After meeting widowed restaurateur Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), George proposes. This one action would be the turning point in the brothers’ lives, as Phil’s aversion towards his brother’s new family quickly becomes deadly.
The best part of the movie is its dynamic setting and tone.
The music helps set the scenes with single instruments playing at different parts. Tense moments have slow, eerie violins while nice ones have melodic piano playing. The sound mixing is even better with outside shots featuring bird and wind sounds.
Campion’s camera floats around with the characters. There are long shots without cuts, focusing on the characters and what they are saying.
Setting is important to the story, showing beautiful scenery with cattle roaming wide open country. The director does an amazing job of maintaining this open feel regardless of if the scene is in an abandoned town or an isolated mansion.
Viewers are fully immersed into 1925. The daily life and work of an early twentieth century Montana rancher is fully portrayed. Phil and his cowhands look authentic, wearing layers of vests and handkerchiefs while skinning and herding animals.
The concept of class is accurately portrayed, with the richer characters walking around in suits and bowler hats.
After moving into their parent’s manor, George and Phil must now adapt to their new life. George takes to his new surroundings fairly easily, while Phil is stubbornly stuck in his old ways.
The difference in behaviours causes the initial rift to form between the brothers as Phil becomes annoyed with how George has seemingly abandoned their old practices.
Phil’s mental state becomes increasingly unstable as he obsesses over his former mentor, Bronco Henry.
George marries Rose and Phil is convinced that Rose is a “cheap schemer” using their inherited wealth to pay for Peter’s education. He becomes agitated and begins harassing Peter and the other ranchers.
While the plot initially seems intriguing, it quickly becomes predictable and any scene that’s meant to be a plot twist, the viewer can see coming.
Dunst is great as Rose. She likes George, but is uncomfortable with the move to the mansion. As the story progresses, Phil becomes aggressive towards her. A scene where he screams sexist slurs at a horse is the first hint at a larger issue with the character.
His torment begins to eat at Rose. He mocks her piano playing by mastering the tune she’s trying to learn in minutes on his banjo. She’s silent when dinner guests come over and she can’t play for them. Unable to cope, she starts drinking, which amuses Phil.
All three performers fit their roles and embody their characters. Both Cumberbatch and Plemons have great stoic and reserved acting. There are long shots filled with tension where the two stare at each other emotionlessly.
Campion’s best dialogue comes from arguments between the brothers, with Phil dominating George and him not knowing how to react.
Kodi Smit-McPhee was awarded a best supporting actor Golden Globe for his performance, even though his mopey portrayal was flat and any awkward young actor could’ve done the part.
The movie was too predictable, especially towards the ending where it had the potential to blow audiences’ minds. Still, viewers get to see a great filmmaker take them on a journey to another time and that skill alone earned Campion her best director Golden Globe.