Movie Review: The Truth About 'The Power Of The Dog' On Netflix

The Power of the Dog Phil Burbank Benedict Cumberbatch Netflix
Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

If you have opened Netflix today, you know that director Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is already in the streamer’s top ten most-streamed content. While that is easily knowable, the truth about the quality of the movie is a tad more complicated. So, before you take a chance and watch it, here are some *spoiler-free* things you need to know.

Potential viewers should be aware that “The Power of the Dog” is achingly slow with sparse dialogue, disturbing scenes of animal cruelty, and few details. It is not “Jane Got a Gun.” The story lies between the lines, and it is painfully lean. At the core of its tale is a dynamic that Jane Campion has played with before -- a woman getting caught between two men. Except, unlike “The Piano,” this is not a love triangle. 

Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, “The Power of the Dog” takes place in Montana circa 1925 and tells the tale of two brothers. The stoically tender, George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), and his loudly venomous brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) are ranchers. They are also inseparable despite Phil’s incessant degradation of George. Along with working together, the brothers also sleep in the same room.

Considering that closeness, you can imagine the shock when their world gets summarily shaken by Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a kindhearted widow with a teenage son. Phil gravely insults the teenager while visiting the inn the mother and son work at and the mother owns. In consoling Rose in the aftermath, George falls for, and marries her, before taking her back to live at his place.

Yes, the same home where the cruel Phil lives. If you think this is a recipe for disaster, you are correct. Rose gradually unravels as Phil applies a psychological boot to her throat, and it is sickening to watch. Making matters worse as a viewer and for Rose, George does not stand up to Phil in a straightforward way.

Instead of confronting his brother, George allows his wife to languish as Phil wages a mental war on Rose, hoping to erode her resolve and loyalty to George. Phil is cruel and calculating, tactical and downright psychotic. It is tough to endure as a viewer. “The Power of the Dog” is in no way pleasurable viewing.

To that point, one of the main storylines is Phil’s unwillingness to bathe. If you are not into that, “Yellowstone” fans excited for its upcoming spinoff might find appeal in watching ranching unfold. Unlike the hit Paramount Network drama, the Netflix movie got filmed in New Zealand, not Montana. For eagle-eyed viewers, the difference will not get missed.

To its credit, for every fun popcorn movie like “Red Notice,” Netflix is also gathering behind arthouse flicks (“The Guilty”) that have found themselves drastically imperiled in the past decade. As a result, “The Power of the Dog” walks onto viewers’ screens like a relic from an indelible yet dying point in cinematic history.

Kristen Dunst, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jesse Plemons all give fantastic performances. They are believable and raw. Their efforts are made all of the more impressive because their characters are thin. Phil is the least elusive as his motives and manner become the centerpiece for the final two acts.

While it drops hints, it takes too long to get to the truth, and it is confusing how it impacts Phil’s behavior moving forward. It is fair to say that “The Power of the Dog” is a long ride that could be shorter, but the aftermath actually deserves more time. For viewers seeking something that lifts their spirits -- this is not it.

There is no simmering that makes it come to a boil. Nor does it ring with the riveting dark gravity of “The Master” or “There Will Be Blood.” In the end, “The Power of the Dog” takes a bite out of your mood without leaving a scar. If you want to check out the film’s growl for yourself, it is currently streaming on Netflix, alongside some exciting movies.