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  Power of the Dog, The Man Of The West
Year: 2021
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy, Alison Bruce, Peter Carroll, Adam Beach, Kenneth Radley, Sean Keenan, George Mason
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is, to put it plainly, overbearing, and likes to run his ranch and herd his cattle as if he were cock of the walk. He has a brother who owns the place with him, George (Jesse Plemons), who in contrast to Phil's lean musculature is doughy and mild, leading him to be nicknamed Fatso; it is not an affectionate moniker. After returning from a drive, they end up in the house where the recently widowed Rose (Kirsten Dunst) stays with her sensitive son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), he who wishes to become a doctor and is studying as a result. But while George loves her, Phil has other ideas...

Jane Campion's return to film directing after a spell in television was welcomed by commentators and fans like a returning warrior coming back to save the day like she had before, but as with her most famous movie The Piano, there were plenty wondering what the fuss was about. This was an international co-production, though the plains and mountains of Montana here were replaced by the landscape of her native New Zealand. It was not the first Western to be shot there, and thanks to a picturesque splendour it would not be the last, that part of the world becoming known for its general appeal visually and healthily.

But those were the times The Power of the Dog was released into, given a cursory cinema showing before winding up on Netflix shortly after, one of its prestige acquisitions that it used to create the appearance of funding cinema as art, though that Christmas more subscribers were watching dumbed down and derivative Red Notice. You can take a horse to water... But after Cumberbatch began picking up awards buzz, interest increased to have the title something casual viewers took a chance on, fair enough, most of them didn't like it, but it had been funded and was available to watch, and that was more than many an indie Western would achieve.

Campion's take on the America of the 1920s was that it was a location where toxic masculinity was allowed to thrive since the opposite personality traits were smothered by bullying tactics and accusations of being soft or even gay, as if they were synonymous. Peter receives that treatment, and presumably George did too before he manned up and got himself a wife in the form of Rose, but Phil's obnoxious influence will not be denied and he has to pick on someone to boost his confidence and his standing in the society he exists in, in that case one populated by cowboy yes men. In that way this was a common twenty-first century trait, accusing the past of being horribly wrong when it came to general social behaviour.

That of course did not deny horrible behaviour was still going on when the media were made, just that now it was being called out by filmmakers like Campion, and there was a feeling she was turning the tables in her feminist manner on men, mostly by showing them in a state of undress to render them vulnerable to her camera's gaze and the judgement of the audience, who were invited to appraise them as male viewers would naked women. But female viewers would do that as well, indeed male viewers appraise unclad actors just as much as unclad actresses, the responses may be different, but that impulse to size everyone on the screen up was still present, whether you admitted it or not. There was some self-awareness of this here: Phil may be as attracted to Peter as he is to Rose, and her alcoholism under his spell is something he obviously gets off on. Really it was a power game we were watching, which repressed character would snap first, and who would come out on top, and if it was not exactly pleasurable to find out, Campion was onto something worth exploring, though this was fairly muted, and not in a satisfying way. Only Cumberbatch recognised the impact of a tantrum. Annoying music by Jonny Greenwood.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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