The Power of the Dog May Just Sweep The Oscars

The Power of the Dog May Just Sweep The Oscars

“When my father died, all I ever wanted to do was protect my mother. And what kind of man would I be if I didn’t protect my mother?”

The Power of the Dog the film written and directed by the Jane Campion and based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name and is about the shifting of power. Shot mostly across rural Otago, New Zealand, the film is an international co-production between New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. The Power of the Dog covers themes of masculinity, love, grief, resentment, jealousy and sexuality.

Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, this film has the ability to sweep the Oscar race.

Jonny Greenwood’s sweeping score underlines the action playing out on the screen. The musical undercurrent pulls at our emotions swelling them into intense waves.

Spoiler alert:

This homoerotic thriller follows two wealthy ranch-owning brothers in 1925 Montana. Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) prefers working with cattle He dominates and disturbs everyone’s peace. He plays a  game of wits between everyone demanding attention like a psychopath on the brink. His anger conceals deeper issues. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) is soft-spoken often at the mercy of his brother’s mean spirited teasing. When they meet Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), a widow and inn owner during a cattle drive things take a turn. The kind-hearted George is quickly taken with Rose, while the volatile Phil, much influenced by his late mentor Bronco Henry, mocks Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee),  for his lisp and effeminate manner.

Benedict Cumberbatch

George marries Rose and Phil takes perceives Rose as an existential threat. He torments her as she barely hangs on. When George organizes a dinner party with his parents and the governor (Keith Carradine) to introduce Rose, he asks her to play their new piano. Rose, is so rattled by Phil’s earlier belittling that she breaks down. She begins drinking and by the time Peter who has been at school comes to the ranch Rose is a full fledged an alcoholic.

Peter is taunted until n a secluded clearing he discovers Phil masturbates with Bronco Henry’s scarf and a stash of magazines with Bronco Henry’s name on them depicting nude men. He sees Phil bathing in a pond with Bronco’s handkerchief around his neck and Phil chases him off.

Phil begins to show decency to Peter, offering to plait him a lasso from rawhide and teach him how to ride a horse. Peter goes willingly along. Peter finds a dead cow and cuts off pieces of the hide. On a fencing job, Phil injures his hand clearing the wood. Peter tells Phil about finding the body of his alcoholic father, who hung himself. He tells Phil his father told him he was not kind enough.

Rose’s alcoholism grows as Phil and her son get closer. Phil who burns the hides of the cows, he does not need has Rose defiantly giving the hides to local Native American traders who thank her with a pair of gloves. She collapses due to her alcohol consumption, as George realizes the extent of the problem and cares for her.

Kodi Smit-McPhee

Despondent over the hides to finish Peter’s lasso, he tries to lash out at Rose. Peter calms Phil down by offering him the hide that he had cut from the dead cow and Phil is touched by Peter’s gesture. The two spend the night in the barn finishing the rope. We see Phil’s open wound coming into contact with the hide mixing in the solution used to soften.

Phil tells Peter how Bronco Henry saved his life by lying body-to-body with him in a bedroll during freezing weather. Phil does not answer when Peter asks if they were naked. When Phil does not show up for breakfast the following day, George finds him sick in bed, his wound severely infected. A delirious Phil looks for Peter to give him the finished lasso, but collapses. George is later seen picking out a coffin for his brother.

At the funeral, the doctor tells George that Phil most likely died from anthrax; but George is perplexed as Phil was always careful to avoid diseased cattle. Peter who skipped Phil’s funeral, opens a Book of Common Prayer to a passage on burial rites and reads Psalm 22:20: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog”. He pushes the lasso under his bed with gloved hands. He watches George and a now-sober Rose return home and embrace. He turns away and smiles.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Cumberbatch is marvelous under the direction of Jane Campion in her stellar drama that is sure to sweep the Oscars. He embodies a man in a crisis over masculinity and sexuality. He dominates the screen with his cold eyes and stoney façade. He shows Phil’s complicated insecurities, secrets and desires like a coiled snake afraid of its own shadow.

Dunst and Plemons, a couple in real life, bring chemistry. Dunst’s tortured Rose, is frailty personified. But the real break through performance is Smit-McPhee, who plays this role with such intrigue as to where this will all end.

Cinematographer Ari Wegner gives us the wide-open spaces of the American West, as they captures the human fragility. Both he and Campion’s give us the barren prison everyone of these characters are trapped in until the catalyst is weeded out and gone. The shifting of dynamics makes you wonder who really is a threat and a challenge. Each is wounded and anguished soul by the end is set free.


Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email:

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