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Book-to-film review: The Power of the Dog

7/02/2022 11:23 PM
Book-to-film review: The Power of the Dog

gr's resident book and film buff reviews The Power of the Dog, based on the book of the same name by Thomas Savage.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) are brothers. They own a profitable cattle ranch in Montana USA. George secretly marries and brings home a wife, Rose, a widow with a teenage son.

Phil is unhappy with this development and sets out to make Rose’s life as miserable as possible and belittles her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), for his spindly physique and effete hobby. Rose descends into depression and alcoholism; Peter, with the build of an ectomorph, takes the abuse in his stride. Although still young, he has learnt not to confuse masculinity with strength.

George is reliant on Phil’s competence, learnt from Bronco Henry, now deceased. Dysfunctional Phil is emotionally reliant on the quiet, dignified George. These grown men, until the arrival of Rose (Kirsten Dunst), still shared a bedroom in their spacious family home, just as they did when they were kids.

The Power of the Dog is a slow-moving relationship movie that’s character driven. It requires the viewer’s close attention right from the beginning. By doing so, there’s every chance a decision will be the correct one as to whether the closing scenes are the result of an accident or murder.

The director is Jane Campion (The Piano) who also adapted the novel by Thomas Savage for the screen. Although set in Montana in 1925, the movie was filmed in New Zealand. The four leads have given outstanding performances. It’s my prediction that nominations when announced for the Academy Awards will include Campion, Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee. 

The music is mood-enhancing, the dialogue is laconic, the script is cleverly crafted and the cinematography is praiseworthy. There’s an underlying tension, Bronco Henry – Phil’s former mentor – plays a pivotal role, and the ending is lethal. Five stars from me.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Reviewed by Clive Hodges