THE POWER OF THE DOG – Review by Susan Granger

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Watch very carefully as Jane Campion’s mythic, revisionist Western begins. A lone, lean figure is seen, silhouetted on the Montana plains. He’s Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a rugged cattle rancher, coldly cultured, calculating and cruel – devoted to the memory of his mentor, Bronco Henry.

Phil’s younger brother George (Jesse Plemons) is totally different. A stout, well-dressed, mild-mannered businessman, genteel George falls in love with melancholy, recently widowed Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), proprietress of the frontier’s Red Mill Inn, working with her effete teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who adorns the rough-hewn tables with decorative paper flowers.

When George marries Rose, moving her into the huge, richly furnished, yet foreboding Burbank homestead, friction is inevitable. Brutish Phil incessantly bullies Peter, maliciously mocking him as a “faggot” in front of the ranch’s rawhide roughnecks.

That traumatizes fragile Rose, who already feels Phil’s simmering, menacing terror, driving her to drink.

Adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, it’s psychologically complex, delving into corrosively charismatic masculinity and repressed sexuality. The title comes from 22nd Psalm, as Jesus is suffering on the cross…”Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.” The power of the dog stands for deep, uncontrollable urges that can, eventually, destroy us.

Utilizing myriad metaphors, writer/director Jane Campion (Oscar-winner for 1993’s The Piano) subtly crafts a kinky, compelling thriller, working with cinematographer Ari Wegner, who transforms New Zealand’s barren South Island into stark, sparsely populated Montana in 1925. Tt’s visually stunning with a spine-chilling score by Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood.

Best known for playing brainy types like Sherlock Holmes, Alan Turning and Doctor Strange, versatile British actor Benedict Cumberbatch – an ominously glowering Best Actor Oscar contender – learned riding, roping, horseshoeing, banjo playing and bull-calf castration.

Formidable young Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee captures Peter’s slyly edgy, ambiguous essence, while Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons translate the tenderness of their real-life, off-screen marriage.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Power of the Dog is an ethereally suspenseful, unpredictable 8 – in theaters and streaming on Netflix on December 1st.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.