Not quite a dog …. but close

Power of the Dog (M)
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirtsen Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Disappointment after disappointment washed over me as I began to watch Power of the Dog.

Let’s point them out and then try to forget them; I’m charitable enough to give the movie a chance seeing it’s won the BAFTA for best film of 2021.

Firstly, I deadset thought the opening music was from the start of the Leonard Cohen song, The Partisan.

Which made sense. I’d been told the flick was moody and dark so what better soundtrack to accompany it than songs from the late, great, Leonard “Music to Slash Wrists By” Cohen?

It wasn’t to be. I’d advise Lenny’s estate to have a listen and take whatever legal action they deem fit.

The next big letdown was the early scene of a large herd of mainly poll Herefords with some Angus and Angus-cross beasts thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately for the producers of Power of the Dog, my final-year thesis at Gatton Agricultural College was The Dominant Beef Breeds in Montana in the First Quarter of the 20th Century and Their Role in that State’s Prosperity.

True. The things you study that you think you’ll never use in later life, right?

Texas bighorns made up a lot of Montana’s early beef stocks early on. Herefords – and certainly not polls – were introduced there in 1945.

So can you see the problem for this reviewer, given that intimate and unexpected knowledge? How would you all react if director Jane Campion had shown cattle in 1925 Montana being mustered using state-of-the-art 21st Century drones or quad bikes. It would stick in the craw; you all know it would.

And to think that less-knowledgeable people have ridiculed the movie for showing a tree nest full of magpies that have never, ever, flown across a Montana sky, Pffftt! Amateurs!

Anyway, let’s move on. Another problem with this movie is that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Phil Burbank is a thoroughly unpleasant and very easily disliked individual, despite possessing some sort of charisma matched only by his body odour.

Now you’d think that a film starring someone who Benedict Cumberbatch believes is without question the finest actor of his or any other generation would be a deadset winner. But his character is cruel to his “fatso” brother George (Jesse Plemons) and especially sadistic to Peter, (Kodi Smit-McPhee) the sensitive son of Rose (Kirtsten Dunst) who runs the Red Mill restaurant.

Once again, any fillum with Kirsten Dunst in it should be a rolled-gold success. I’ve been a big fan since her standout performance in the original Spiderman. You guys out there would know the particular scene I’m thinking about.

So where does Campion, who also wrote the screenplay for this yarn from a book by Thomas Savage, take this piece that also garnered her the BAFTA gong for best director

There’s no doubt Ms Campion has an eye for a scene. The whole flick is shot with style and brooding menace. She certainly knows how to draw out the suspense in what is, in effect, a psychological study that has bugger-all to do with the classic shoot ‘em up western.

Will these two misfit brothers finally come to blows. And is that because Phil resents his brother’s love for Rose? Or wants her for himself, as a dueling banjo/piano scene suggests? The way he cruelly plays a tune that a humiliated Rose couldn’t master? What a prick if he’s trying on that love-me-because-I’m-an-arsehole technique.

But wait! The plot thickens. There are some scenes where it could be explained why Phil, who is as tough and leathery as his cowboy chaps, is a confirmed bachelor, if you get my drift! He’s got a stash of books of drawings showing musclemen in their tights. And he does like to lie in a glen playing with himself, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But it does help to explain his sudden interest in the young, sensitive lad he had gladly humiliated for cheap laughs from his cowboy crew?

When they ride out together, is it part of Phil’s cunning plan to visit nearby Brokeback Mountain? Let’s hope for Peter’s sake he’s got some Vas in his saddlebags!

How will it all end? And in the final analysis, who really cares? But one spoiler alert: Phil does end up stiff!

Perhaps it’s Campion’s wry, whimsical look at the minutiae of pioneer life, albeit a privileged one, that has so enchanted BAFTA voters yet left this reviewer’s sleep towards the concluding scenes fitful at best. The western that’s not really a western didn’t do much for me.

Or put another way: if this is the best fillum of 2021 according to the British academy awards, I’d hate to pay good money to see the worst.

Don Gordon-Brown