The Power of the Dog

This is cult New Zealand director Jane Campion's first film about male relationships and only her second feature set in America – the first was the long-forgotten 2003 Meg Ryan misfire In the Cut. Set in 1920s Montana – then so rural it may as well have been set in the Wild West – The Power of the Dog is subtly creepy but not entirely satisfying.

The plot concerns two cattle rancher brothers, Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons, respectively), and what happens when George takes a wife: young widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her 18-ish-year-old son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil, a mean and angry sort, doesn't like anything about these interlopers, and quickly commences to tease the effeminate Peter in front of the ranch's macho cowpokes and antagonize the fragile Rose, who soon takes to drinking to settle her nerves. Yet Phil has his own complicated history, hinted at early on by his obsession with his long-dead mentor "Bronco Henry".

The less said about The Power of the Dog's secrets, the better. It's a slow-burn film that leaves you with more to think about at the end than it does while you're watching it, if you catch my drift. Cumberbatch is better at playing a rough-hewn cowboy than you would expect from the quippy Englishman, and Smit-McPhee conveys a lot without doing or saying much. But a major part of the plot – that Phil's cruel words towards Rose are enough to drive her to alcoholism and thus to further consequences – didn't quite come together for me. I just wasn't convinced.