The opening pace of The Power of the Dog is very slow. So slow that I gave up after about thirty minutes. I did like the music. I kept seeing posts about Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, so I gave it another shot. This time I didn’t get as caught up in the pace or my lack of understanding of the story. Instead, I focused on the characters and their relationships with one another.
Cumberbatch plays Phil, a rugged rancher in Montana, who lives with his brother George (Jesse Plemmons). George is more buttoned up and running the business side of the family ranch. He falls for a restauranteur and widow named Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and marries her. She moves in along with her grown son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Happiness doesn’t seem to be a thing on this ranch. Phil secretly longs for a hero that he lost, and torments Rose and Peter daily. Rose drowns herself in booze as Phil’s bullying continues – a lot of which we don’t see. George is struggling to balance Rose’s role as wife. Peter is achingly uncomfortable.
Director Jane Campion creates intense, intimate scenes with visible energy exchanges. There’s a suggested power struggle and each character takes turns holding onto the reigns. The more Phil tries to manipulate Rose and Peter with his superior masculinity, the more his weaknesses are revealed. As Peter spends more time with Phil, he recognizes this and a shift occurs.
The thoughtful ending is the real art of the story. I was left sorting what actually happened. Of course, I had to look up the bible verse about The Power of the Dog, which helped rationalize my conclusions. But, I still wondered why it took so long to get to the good part.