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TIFF 2021 Review: The Power of the Dog – “The cinematography is beautiful almost to the point of being otherworldly”

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When a rancher brings home a bride, the emotional divide with his brother escalates.

There is a bitter rapport between brothers George (Jesse Plemons) and Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) as the latter feels the former slipping away from him; this is reflected in how they dress and handle themselves in different situations.  Phil feels more comfortable spending time with the ranch hands while George wants to become a member of the political and social elite.  Things are made worse when George decides to marry a widow from town who becomes the source of resentment and cruelty for his sibling.

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When it comes to discussing the performances inevitably talk will centre around Benedict Cumberbatch as he comes across as a sociopath beyond redemption even when the reason for his self-loathing is revealed; he is unrelenting in his cruelty that few if any could withstand the onslaught unscathed.  The other one that deserves mention is Kodi Smit-McPhee who does not turn the stepson Peter into a caricature as his feminine traits are believable as well as the interactions with his mother Rose (Kirsten Dunst).

Subtle moments that reveal a lot about the characters are Phil gently caressing a paper flower blossom, Rose coming to rescue of the paper floral arrangements created by Peter, and Peter dissecting a rabbit in his bedroom which leads to a funny exchange between mother and son.  If pitching the project to studio executives it would be best described as having the epic landscape of East of Eden, the homoerotic undercurrent of Brokeback Mountain and the psychological warfare of Rebecca.  The cinematography is beautiful almost to the point of being otherworldly while plenty of time is spent with the rather small cast.  The trouble is the pacing as the cruel antics of Phil becoming mind-numbing after a while and one begins to wonder what is the actual point of the story.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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