Movie Reviews

In The Shadow Of Bronco Henry | “The Power of the Dog” (2021) Netflix Movie Review

Who doesn’t love a good Western?

I initially passed over Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” when it came out because I was deeply entrenched in Marvel in the form of “Hawkeye” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, and I wasn’t in the mood for what looked like a dower film. However, after seeing its accolades pile up — including several Osacar nominations — I decided to circle back and give it a go.

“The Power of the Dog” focuses on brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who own a cattle ranch in 1925 Montana. They both owe their start to their now deceased hero and mentor, Bronco Henry, who taught them everything they know about raising cattle, riding and surviving in the wilderness, and is regarded as a semi-mythic folk hero.

After a cattle drive, the two bring their men to an inn/restaurant owned by the widowed Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), who is a former cinema pianist. She has a shy and timid son named Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who makes delicate paper flowers to brighten up the dining space, but this leads to unwanted attention from Phil, who mocks him for being feminine. Rose hears every word of this and is driven to tears, which embarrasses George so much that he comes back the next day to help her out by volunteering to be a waiter.

From left: Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon and Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank

Pretty quickly, the two get married, and Phil strongly dislikes her, accusing her of marrying for George’s money. Peter is thankfully sent away to school, where he studies to become a doctor, but Phil takes every chance he can to humiliate Rose, which drives her to seek comfort in alcohol.

When Peter does return, his mother is an alcoholic who despises Phil. Perhaps partially to spite Rose and partially because he feels remorseful, Phil then decides that he wants to take Peter under his wing by teaching him how to ride a horse and is set on making him a lasso from rawhide, a task he focuses on for the remainder of the film.

Throughout the film, George is complacent both during Phil’s harassment of Rose, and Rose’s subsequent alcoholism, but he encourages the relationship between Phil and Peter, which is the emotional core of the film. Though the two start off on a very bad foot, they learn to understand and appreciate each other, and for me, their relationship makes the film work.

From left: Jesse Plemons and Kisten Dunst as George and Rose Burbank

Unfortunately, we do have to wade through significant portions of the film where Peter is absent, which are the least interesting parts of it, and feel unnecessarily bloated. Phil’s treatment of Rose is in no way excusable, and he never atones for his actions towards her, but I think that’s what makes him interesting — he’s a deeply flawed character with a glimmer of good in him, that never fully gets redeemed.

This film certainly is not for everyone. It’s a slow-burner filled with menial, flat shots bereft of physical action and conflict, but it is exquisitely-written, and the character acting by Cumberbatch, Plemons, Dunst and Smit-McPhee is quite strong.

While it is uneven as a whole, it’s filled with great character moments that make it memorable and ultimately, make the film stand out from others in the genre. Clocking in at around 2 hours, it can be a lot to take in, but thankfully the film is broken up into digestible sections if you need to take a break.

“The Power of the Dog” (2021) gets an 8/10

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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