Benedict Cumberbatch always has range in his acting talent, but this his latest role as alpha male Phil Burbank in Netflix's "The Power of the Dog" is an all-time high for his career. The man deserves an Oscar nomination if not the award for Best Actor.
Base on the novel by Thomas Savage, the movie is beautifully filmed and heavily anchored by phenomenal actors. Coming from a novice to director and writer Jane Campion's work, it's easy to realize that she understands the allure behind Western dramas. However, it doesn't translate well in this particular film.
The Power of the Dog | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com
Phil Burbank and his brother George (Jesse Plemons) are wealthy ranchers in Montana during 1925, and they couldn't be more different. Phil commands a room with intimidation and awe. Fellow ranchers laugh at his cruel jokes and they follow "the boss" in everything he does. But George is quiet, compassionate and calm, and his personality wins the heart of a widow (Kirsten Dunst) with a timid son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). As time passes, Phil ridicules his sister-in-law by humming an eerie tune she cannot play, and he torments Peter as he tries to adapt to his new family. But as his secrets come to the surface, what becomes of Phil Burbank?
Smit-McPhee, Dunst and Cumberbatch are all standouts in the film. Each of their performances is enthralling for their own reasons: Dunst is arresting as she descends into alcoholism, Smit-McPhee's character arc soars in difference like night and day and of course Cumberbatch is harsh as a machismo bully.
But unfortunately for the actors, the story takes a long time to tell. It could be 30 minutes shorter and share a more succinct story about these diverse characters. Instead, this Western drama is told through pompous dialogue and sprawling albeit gorgeous cinematography. The film commands full attention, but it's hard to gather it when there are too many scenes that are similar to one another, mostly with Phil terrorizing Peter.
The pot twists are extremely interesting, though predictable. But at least it carries viewers a satisfying ending.
If viewers can survive the stuffy filler scenes, then they'll find a way to enjoy the acting talents of this stacked cast.