Paulie’s Perspective: The Power Of The Dog (2021) Review

Dir: Jane Campion

Writer: Jane Campion

Starring: Benedict Cumberpatch; Kirsten Dunst; Jesse Plemons

Adapted from Novel by: Thomas Savage

So this picture has a lot of talk to it. Sam Elliot, the great Western / Cowboy actor said to the press that Jane knows nothing about Cowboys – and why shoot a film set in Montana in New Zealand.  (New Zealand is where Jane lives) Jane shot back to the press at Sam – saying he is being a B-I-T-C-H. 

This film is nominated for a whopping 12 Oscars, and is available on Netflix, so naturally I had to see what all the fuss is about. 

To begin with, Sam is right – New Zealand, as we have learned from Lord of The Rings, and a few other hit films, has a very distinct landscape to it. Short grass, plenty of rocks in every hill, not many trees – really nothing like Montana. No majestic mountains with snow on top – just big rocky hills with little grass.

Putting that aside – Sam should have known this film was based on a novel written by a Montana cowboy, Thomas Savage. So it has merit to it, and quite a bit. 

Does this film deserve 12 Oscars? Well I agree with the editing, the sound, and some of the acting. The directing to be honest, would have been much better in the hands of Ang Lee, who directed Brokeback Mountain – because this is similar to that story and that tone. 

What Jane lacks in grace, and beauty, Lee would have supplied in abundance. Still – she is capable enough to pull this movie off and do so in a non-annoying way. 

I guess you could say she stayed out of her own way just enough to accomplish what she wanted to. The script however, leaves holes and question marks that she could have cleared up easily with just an extra shot here and there, but didn’t. So I don’t think she deserves a nomination – but Cumberpatch certainly does. 

Benedict Cumberpatch plays Phil – the main character who certainly has his own personality and way of doing things. Benedict brought him to life, much like Heath Ledger brought Enus to life in Brokeback Mountain.

Phil carries this film entirely on his back, and truly is this movie. He created a great character and a great foil to Dunst and Plemons who are capable actors, playing capable roles.

Jane tries her best to incorporate some grace and poetry – close up shots of nature, clouds, the rocky hills instead of rocky mountains, but it just doesn’t come together. The thing she does excel at, is when she creates moments of tension. Jane seems to be really good at that, and that is what really becomes the main take away of this film. Jane and her editor build up moments very well.  She incorporates the right shot, at the right time to make us feel uneasy. From a very long shot inside a house looking out, to a fast 360 pan around two men locked in a stare. Jane finds a way to truly convey an emotion that is not written on the page. That part of the movie, is exceptional. 

As far as adapting the novel, Jane does not make everything clear to the viewer. There is a lot of innuendoes that she expects us to catch, that quite frankly I did not catch. She doesn’t spell out everything that is happening, she leaves a few important things out – especially about rope making that I had no idea about – that holds back the full power of the film’s punch. 

The film is great material, has a great twist in the end.  The film spends a lot of time building up one moment and then gives us a twist at the last second, fooling us all and actually leaving us quite surprised.  The movie moves slow at 2hr 6min, but this kind of movie always does. It is subtle, but the score certainly helps and is rightfully nominated for one of the 12 nominations. I do like this score, by Johnny Greenwood.  It is fresh, new, and wonderfully done. 

We see where the phrase “the power of the dog”  comes from, but I still have no idea what it means, and that sums up this movie perfectly