Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Power of the Dog, or: Hiding Secrets & Secret Hides

*Spoilers follow*

For better or worse, most of the content we consume for the Blog Collab isn’t exactly an award contender. Let this month be the exception, then, as we catch up on some of the Oscar nominees we missed out on (which is most of them). And not to worry–I won’t be the 10 millionth person on the internet to weigh in on the slap.

The Film:

The Power of the Dog

Director:

Jane Campion

The Premise:

A controlling cattle rancher clashes with his sister-in-law and her son as everyone hides secrets from everyone else on a remote ranch.

The Ramble:

If there’s anything driving the economy of 1920s Montana, it’s cattle. Cattle and secrets. No one exemplifies this more than rugged, hypermasculine rancher Phil Burbank, as hot-tempered as his brother George is calm and compassionate. Phil seems to find joy only in belittling others (constantly calling George “fatso”) and fondly remembering his mentor Bronco Henry, no doubt an equally delightful legend of the West.

While driving cattle through the harsh Montana landscape, the Burbanks and their team stop at an inn owned and operated by widow Rose and her son Peter. Phil immediately makes an impression by mocking the sensitive Peter, an aspiring doctor, while George attempts to make amends. It’s not long before George and Rose are married, to Phil’s dismay.

As Peter goes away to medical school, Phil turns his full attention to tormenting Rose, already rather on edge. Phil undermines and embarrasses her at every turn, while easily earning points even in polite society based on his reputation for being an unrelenting asshole.

When Peter returns for the summer, he once again becomes a target of Phil’s scorn ostensibly for his tenderness. However, it’s when Phil has a change of heart that his attention acquires a troubling tone. Taking Peter under his wing, Phil teaches his new student to ride a horse and begins braiding a lasso, promising to show Peter how to use it before the season ends. And color the whole world surprised when it’s revealed that Phil has been guarding a secret for many years related to the nature of his relationship with Bronco Henry.

As Rose observes Phil’s influence on Peter, she despairs more and more, reflected in the secret liquor stashes she has throughout the house. The hostility between Rose and Phil reaches its peak when she trades cattle hides for a pair of gloves–hides that Phil considers his property.

In the midst of all this, Peter seems to be heading towards a rather dramatic choice between his mother and Phil–one that will involve more sexually tense rope braiding than expected.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s nothing wrong with this film, and I do support Jane Campion getting the Best Director Oscar for this–despite that problematic comment about the Williams sisters in her Critics’ Choice Awards acceptance speech (which is not ok).

In thinking about the film itself, it’s not bad by any means, though its intentional pacing becomes plodding at times. This is a very classic Hollywood film, and it makes sense to me that it had so much Oscar buzz. It feels we’re about halfway through the film before much happens beyond setup, and it’s so subtle in places that I had to rewind to catch the intention behind certain lines of dialogue. I support the messaging on toxic masculinity so much, though it would have been nice for Kirsten Dunst to have something more interesting to do.

Benedict Cumberbatch deservedly gets a lot of credit for his performance in this film, and I can’t argue with that. He manages to pull off truly terrifying and charismatic without becoming cartoonishly evil. The cinematography is gorgeous too, though the film was actually shot in New Zealand, not Montana.

On the Collab, 75% (conservatively) of what we do is watch weird films, and this one honestly lacks some of the gutsy innovation that our favorite picks tend to share. I believe this is the 5th Best Picture nominee I’ve watched for the 2022 awards season, and I haven’t really been enthralled by any of them. I’m becoming a broken record here, but my favorite film release of 2022 by far was Titane, which is decidedly not the kind of film that the Academy goes for.

I’ll probably remember this one primarily for its inventive approach to murder.

Would my blog wife help this one round up some cattle or annoy it to death with her banjo strumming? Read her review to find out!