Smart Movie Review: ‘The Power of the Dog’ confronts the core of American masculinity

Published 4:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2021

By Ian Omar Smart | Guest Columnist

Streaming on Netflix, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” brings together a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee to confront the core of American masculinity through the lens of the Western.

What must life have been like running cattle in a pre-modern world? Campion presents that life as exhausting, worthwhile, but mostly lonely.

Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch) and his brother George (Plemons) have tended their land side-by-side from 1900 to 1925, but with the modern world approaching, George grows out of his routine and seeks companionship from Rose (Dunst) which includes accommodating her intelligent son Peter (Smit-McPhee). Phil’s resistance to change puts him against Rose, and Peter does his best to help his mother cope with her new stresses. 

On the surface, this film is simply dueling personalities seeking control of their household, but Campion uses this story of cowboys to highlight these characters’ inner lives. She honestly portrays Rose’s deterioration and allows for quiet moments where Bill showcases his sensitivity.

Most surprisingly, she uses their conflict to highlight Peter’s subtle manipulation. These people rarely say what they really mean. This film is all implication, where honesty is found in gestures or glances. 

If one pays close attention,” The Power of the Dog” reveals secrets hidden underneath its surface that reward viewers with something very special. While slow to start, this fascinating Western about resentment and isolation majorly pays off. It’s proving to be one of the best and most beautifully rendered films of this year.

Ian Omar Smart is a graduate of Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University with a degree in architecture. When he’s not drawing buildings, he’s probably at the movies. Smart can be contacted at isiansmart@gmail.com.