A new frontier in the Old West


“The Power of the Dog”

Directed by: Jane Campion

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Opens at The Loft Cinema Dec. 10 and is currently streaming on Netflix

In Michael Mann’s “Heat,” Robert de Niro’s character tells his love interest, “I’m alone, I am not lonely.” 

Throughout “The Power of the Dog,” a psychological drama set in the Old West, I kept thinking about that quote.

Everyone in this film is not alone, but they are lonely.

Nobody’s happy where they are, with whom they are, or with whom they are not. One character rejects society and longs for his brother’s love in their mentor’s absence. Meanwhile, the other brother wants to be accepted by society and rejects their way of life.

A widow who terrifyingly coexists with her new brother-in-law struggles with the looming loss of her previous husband, and her son covets her mother’s happiness.

Filmmaker Jane Campion wrote and directed one of the best movies of the year, and possibly of her career.

Campion was nominated for the Best Director Oscar and won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1994 for “Piano.” 

After a 12-year absence from making movies, Campion will be in contention again for the Best Director award, and will most probably be competing against Paul Thomas Anderson and Joel Coen as the other two favorites in 2022.

“The Power of the Dog” is Campion’s comeback to the big screen and is an unnerving vision of the Thomas Savage 1967 novel of the same name.  

Her camerawork is surgically intimate, Ari Wegner’s cinematography is colossally breathtaking and Jonny Greenwood’s score is perturbingly atmospheric.

Greenwood (Radiohead’s lead guitarist and keyboardist), notoriously was snubbed out of an Oscar nod for the Best Original Score award for his work in “There Will Be Blood.” 

This year, however, he might snatch the award from the perennial nominee and one-time winner Hans Zimmer.

The music in “The Power of the Dog” plays a key part in its storytelling and the story itself. It produces pace, conflict and emotional manipulation for the audience and the characters.

Benedict Cumberbatch will be another Oscar contender out of this movie. Cumberbatch was nominated in 2015 for the Best Actor award for “The Imitation Game,” and this role is his best chance to win.

Book adaptations to film don’t work all the time, but Cumberbatch’s performance is one of the main reasons this movie does.

Cumberbatch’s interpretation of  Phil Burbank sets the tone for every element of the film, and the actor will never have to worry about being typecast for his roles as Dr. Strange and Sherlock Holmes.

The nuanced intensity in the performance is remarkable. Burbank feels menacing, cruel and sometimes evil, yet also fragile from carrying an immense sorrow for what it feels like another lifetime.

He is unhappy and lonely — and when everything in his purposely lifeless world begins to change — he becomes dangerous.

Kirsten Dunst (Rose Gordon) and Jesse Plemons (George Burbank) also deserve praise for their performances as supporting actors. 

They play perfectly off Cumberbatch’s character while carving out their story arc with a mechanical coldness.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (Peter Gordon) is the other star of the movie, with an understated yet piercing performance as an increasingly crucial character of the story.

Netflix slowly became a haven for filmmaking, taking power away from the studios just like it did to movie rentals. And after years of its movies knocking on the door to win an Oscar for Best Picture, in 2022 we might finally see it happen with this movie or “Don’t Look Up.”

It was theatrically released to be eligible for Oscar consideration, and in a sense, “The Power of the Dog” might usher in a new modern era in movie history and consolidate Netflix’s power if it wins the Oscar.

Yet it feels from another time, not because it’s set in the Old West, but because it’s a memorable movie during times that this type of cinema isn’t made any more because it doesn’t resonate in the mainstream.