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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Power of the Dog': An Exquisitely-Crafted Psychological Drama Set in the American West

Movie poster for the 2021 film The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog (2021) is an exquisitely-crafted Western drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons as Phil and George Burbank, wealthy Montana ranch owners. Set in 1925, the film follows as kind-hearted George courts and marries local inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), much to the chagrin of the gruff and volatile Phil.

Seething with jealousy and convinced that Rose has married George for his money, Phil openly taunts her and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a brainy and effeminate young man. Phil ultimately develops a soft spot for Peter, however, taking him under his wing and indoctrinating him into the ways of the saddle—despite nebulous intentions and underlying sexual ambiguities. Structured with remarkable acuity, the film challenges the viewer to follow the clues to the intertwining fates of Phil and Peter—Peter's medical studies playing a major role in the young virtuoso's ultimate deeds.

Adapted from the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano, Top of the Lake), The Power of the Dog is a unique cinematic escapade that deftly wields tension as a means to explore sexuality and toxicity. Cumberbatch shines brightest in his acutely enigmatic role—that of a painfully repressed personage desperately fronting an apocryphal identity. Imbued with psychological interplay, Campion delivers a powerful depiction of masculinity, fundamentally dismantling the western genre in the process.


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