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First reviews for “The Power of The Dog”

The Power of the Dog made its world premiere earlier today at the 78th Venice International Film Festival and…they’re very positive, friends. We selected a few – non spoiler-y, of course! – bits from all the reviews we could have access to, so that we can all safely appreciate the film’s reception and rejoice!

Please click on the publication’s name to open the full review, if you’d like but beware of spoilers! Here we go:

From David Ehrlich’s review for IndieWire:

A career-best Benedict Cumberbatch is equal parts Jack Twist and Daniel Plainview in a masterfully tense Western drama.


Cumberbatch is astounding in the role, as the actor knots his default sarcasm into a lasso of constricted menace. The unforgettable performance that results — a definitive career-best — is at once both terrifying and terrified […] Cumberbatch plays each side of that equation at full tilt.


“The Power of the Dog” sticks its teeth into you so fast and furtively that you may not feel the sting on your skin until after the credits roll, but the delayed bite of the film’s ending doesn’t stop it from leaving behind a well-earned scar.

A (IndieWire Critic’s Pick), gave it a 100 on Metacritic

From Carlos Aguilar’s review for The Wrap

Benedict Cumberbatch gives perhaps his best performance to date, as part of a powerhouse ensemble that includes Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons


Cumberbatch wrangles an earth-shattering performance, perhaps his best ever, with an excessive bravado that seems to consume Phil from within.


The actor manifests a malleable persona, superficially rigid but softer in the face of kindness, more notably when he tastes the hope that someone might comprehend his tortuous preoccupation. […] Cumberbatch knows precisely how to bring his persona from apparent calmness (a rehearsed image of control) to the verge of a breakdown with believable potency.


“The Power of the Dog” thrives on having actors so submerged in the fiction that they are creating a reality. Their subcutaneous labor translates what’s unsaid into fleeting but telling gestures.

Gave it a 85 on Metacritic

From Owen Gleiberman’s review for Variety:

“The Power of the Dog” needed to get to a more bruising catharsis. In its crucial last act, the film becomes too oblique. Cumberbatch has the showpiece role, and he’s good, but there’s not enough dramatic layering to Phil’s repression and violence. Campion has made a movie whose dramatic upshot is to denounce homophobia — an unassailable message. But maybe, at this point, not a revelatory one.

Gave it a 70 on Metacritic

From Xan Brooks’ review for The Guardian:

Cumberbatch, that child of Harrow, makes a decent clenched fist of his role as vicious Phil Burbank. If you can believe him as a hard-bitten western thug, castrating cattle one-handed and lassoing mustangs in the yard, then Campion’s battle is already half-won.

4/5 stars, 80 on Metacritic

From Nicholas Barber’s review for the BBC:

[…] But for all its similarities to Campion’s best-known work, The Power of the Dog is darker, stranger, and horribly gripping in its own right. Unless you’ve read the novel by Thomas Savage from which it’s adapted, it’s impossible to guess where it’s going. It also boasts one of Benedict Cumberbatch’s most remarkable transformations.

Cumberbatch paints a finely detailed portrait of a thoroughly objectionable man, pouring Phil’s anger and resentment into every glare, every twisted grin, every mocking word, every suck of his hand-rolled cheroot. He can even be belligerent when he plucks a banjo string – and if that’s not worth an Oscar nomination, I don’t know what is. 


What’s unique about The Power of the Dog is that it seems at first to be an epic Western, but it becomes a brooding gothic melodrama in which relationships shift and long-buried secrets surface. Its slow-burning psychological mysteries may frustrate some viewers. But others will be gripped by the way Campion twists the conventions of the American frontier drama: the fact that its jittery score is by Jonny Greenwood isn’t the only thing it has in common with There Will Be Blood.

It’s a film which shimmers with intelligence, and if the plot isn’t clear until the very last scene, well, it’s worth the wait. When that scene arrives, the purpose of every previous scene snaps into sharp focus, leaving you with the urge to go back to the beginning and watch the whole thing again.

5/5 stars, 100 on Metacritic

From David Rooney’s review for The Hollywood Reporter:

Twelve years after her last feature, Jane Campion makes a thrilling return with The Power of the Dog, a work as boldly idiosyncratic, unpredictable and alive with psychological complexity as anything in the revered director’s output. For a filmmaker who has predominantly focused on forensic investigations of the female psyche, this riveting adaptation of the 1967 Thomas Savage novel represents an assured thematic shift to corrosive masculinity and repressed sexuality. The intimately uncomfortable drama is a chamber piece on an epic canvas, driven by transfixing performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and, in a stunning breakout turn, young Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee.


Cumberbatch hasn’t had a role that makes such stimulating use of his unique qualities as an actor in years. His Phil is a darkly charismatic man, more cultured than he cares to show. He’s cold almost to a reptilian degree but damaged and yearning for something beneath his unfeeling exterior, which emerges in the sad sensuality of his scenes alone by the river. 

Gave it a 100 on Metacritic

From Tomris Laffly’s review for The Playlist:

[…] “The Power of the Dog” thoroughly feels like a movie only Campion could have made with all the gradual swelling of its pathos. And while this thoughtful adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel yields the first male-led picture of Campion’s filmography, it shares a kindred spirit with much of her former work, including her melancholic romance “The Piano.” Like that lyrical masterpiece (which dances around notes far more uplifting and optimistic), “The Power of the Dog” sinks its teeth deep into every pressure-cooker moment of emotional restraint, earning your gushes and silent shrieks along the way.

Those shrieks are matched—and sometimes, deviously guided—by Jonny Greenwood’s string-and-horn-heavy, shrewdly sneaky atonal score as we follow Phil Burbank, the stony-faced man’s man in question. Benedict Cumberbatch plays him with heart-shattering command, precision, and for quite some time, a sense of terrorizing intimidation—a volatile combination that routinely feels on the verge of exploding.

The Power of the Dog” soars everywhere else despite being a movie that favors small yet jittery moments that seldom detonate over big and loud ones. It’s cinematic poetry, if there ever was one, bourgeoning in meaning the more you linger in its shadow.

A-, 91 on Metacritic

From David Katz’s review for The Film Stage:

Jane Campion’s psychosexual western The Power of the Dog has an irrepressible bite.

In a film of carefully appointed details, let’s isolate one. Phil Burbank (a fierce Benedict Cumberbatch) is, among many things, a man of reputation.


The Power of the Dog has attributes that recall her past work but pleasingly seems––if not a new direction––that Campion is drawing upon a fresh skillset to best do this tale justice. It’s a fairly reverent adaptation of a little-known Western novel of the same title by Thomas Savage […] Campion cannily extracts the strongest dramatic, and cinema-ready material: it’s not an excessively talky film either, but makes the dialogue-driven stretches count (with unusually bold and bass-y post-sync sound mixing to boot).

B+, 83 on Metacritic

From Richard Lawson’s review for Vanity Fair:

Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and especially Benedict Cumberbatch shine in this tale of sublimated desire in 1920s Montana.


Phil is a dream of a role, in a way, though an odd fit for Cumberbatch. He’s so posh and slender and British, and his American accent is often a strained garble. Gradually, though, his performance in The Power of the Dog gains an insistent allure. Cumberbatch’s strangeness works in interesting tandem with Phil’s isolation and spiky misanthropy. Any innate harshness we may see in Cumberbatch the actor is used in service of Phil’s anger at the world.


The Power of the Dog is not too concerned with being about any one thing. The film’s secrets are revealed while new ones bloom into being. Life tumbles after life in the ecosystem of all of us, seething amid the dust clouds we can’t help but kick up. 

80 on Metacritic

From Jonathan Romney’s review for Screen Daily:

A powerful turn from Benedict Cumberbatch anchors Jane Campion’s prairie-set period drama.


Campion followers will be fascinated to see her adopting a big-country landscape canvas, as well as further pursuing some of her key interests, notably dysfunctional family dynamics, the vagaries of sexual desire and the malaises of the male ego – all themes that emerged fascinatingly in the two seasons of her recent TV drama Top Of The Lake. The latter theme is personified here by an intense, and tantalisingly nuanced performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, whose range expands ever more intriguingly, and here produces one of his most troubling characterisations to date.


All four leads are excellent, erstwhile ingenue Dunst continuing her current exploration into more mature, vulnerable female characters, while Plemons can do finely-tuned man-child gaucheness like few other American actors of his generation. Inevitably, it’s Cumberbatch who makes the most impression, partly because the atmospheric darkness, framing Phil’s suspicious looks and sharp micro-glances of contempt, keep us guessing exactly what’s on this character’s mind.


if The Power Of The Dog isn’t the absolute killer coup that Campionites might have hoped, this is her most thoroughly conceived, consistently involving drama for years.

80 on Metacritic

From Geoffrey Macnab’s review for The Independent:

Benedict Cumberbatch re-confirms his chameleon-like qualities, giving one of his finest screen performances yet in a very unlikely role in Jane Campion’s new Netflix-backed film, The Power of the Dog (a world premiere in the Venice Festival’s main competition). 


At times, the storytelling is so nuanced that the film threatens to stall. As a viewer, you want the catharsis of a gunfight or a saloon bar brawl. Campion, though, deliberately avoids big dramatic set pieces. She is dealing with violence and sexual longing but in a very subtle and oblique way. All the characters’ feelings here are very deeply sublimated. The fascination of The Power of the Dog lies in its ambiguity and its depth of characterisation. Nothing is obvious here, not even the title.

4/5 stars

From Todd McCarthy’s review for Deadline:

One thing is certain, that The Power Of The Dog is the most gorgeous-looking Western set in the early 20th century since Days Of Heaven 43 years ago. What’s also clear is that Jane Campion has made a complex and probing adaptation of the late Thomas Savage’s superb 1967 novel about two very different Montana rancher brothers caught in a twisted emotional bind.


But this is a serious, ambitious, living and breathing work, a film that sticks in the mind, ignites a mix of feelings that you can stew about for days and makes you want to examine it in the light from different angles. There aren’t many films these days that can claim that kind of attention on the viewer.

From James Mottram’s review for South China Morning Post:

Cumberbatch is in full force here, a tough-as-nails turn unlike anything he’s done before. Real-life couple Plemons and Dunst are also very watchable, though the film ultimately turns its attention to Smit-McPhee’s character.

4/5 stars

From Roberto Ruggio’s review for Awards Watch:

I wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention the great cast that makes these characters alive. Benedict Cumberbatch, whose casting was welcome with deep perplexity, is stellar as Phil Burbank, in a performance that deserves attention during the upcoming awards season: his Phil is malicious, ferocious, salacious, he’s loud and aggressive, guarding his territory like Cerberus, the three-headed dog, but he’s also deeply insecure, repressed, and emotionally castrated.


Rich, thoughtful, visually and narratively compelling, The Power of The Dog proves once again why Jane Campion is one of the most interesting and respected filmmakers of our time.


From Bilge Ebiri’s review for Vulture:

It has been 12 years since Jane Campion released a feature, and we’ve certainly missed her voice on the big screen — missed the compassion with which she draws her twisted dreamers and the overwhelming cinematic wonder of the spaces those characters inhabit. In The Power of the Dog, an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s acclaimed 1967 novel, Campion trains her lens on the American West (1925 Montana, to be exact), and the results are as majestic and unnerving as you’d imagine. If in the past her locations had a lush, sinister beauty — think of those overgrown gardens in The Portrait of a Lady, the muddy and windswept shores of The Piano, the cluttered streets of In the Cut — this time the menace lies in the wide expanses of the American wilderness.


It’s a perfect role for Cumberbatch, whose gentle features and angular physique have always made him seem assembled from competing impulses.

Gave it a 90 on Metacritic

From Nicholas Bell’s review for Ion Cinema:

With The Power of the Dog, the Palme d’Or winner notably returns to her favored parameter of the period piece, but perhaps even more noteworthy, makes her first stridently masculine focal point in this adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel. Arguably an ensemble piece, especially considering the quartet of principles are each shouldering significant secrets which lends them an insular, cold aesthetic, it’s a poetic, sexually charged odyssey of menace.

[…] but a viciously manipulative Cumberbatch surprises most. Reptilian and transfixing, he’s an obnoxious bully with his own deeply buried issues, but his sinister presence, underlined by an equally unnerving score from Jonny Greenwood, is the driving force.

3.5/5 stars

From Tom Bond’s review for One Room With A View:

Jane Campion’s latest film, an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog, is a masterful excavation of the cracks and wrinkles of masculinity, and the ways that men hide from themselves in order to conform.


Campion zooms in on the men’s inner desires with close-ups of their craftsmanship and hard labour, a symbolic and sensual shared experience that gets closer than anything to unearthing their emotions.

Under the codes of traditional masculinity, certain feelings are unspeakable, and The Power of the Dog digs deep into these hidden spaces. While Plemons’ unbeatable pokerface possibly goes too far in withholding emotion, Cumberbatch’s silence speaks volumes in a superb performance that leaves you wanting more from such a complex and fascinating character.

4/5 stars

From Stephanie Zachareck’s review for Time:

Phil seethes with a roiling crock full of emotions—resentment, jealousy, disdain—that find their way out through Cumberbatch’s pinched, appraising eyes. He assesses the world and finds it contemptible.


The Power of the Dog works as a western, a thriller, a psychological study of masculinity gone awry. Best of all, Campion and her cinematographer, Ari Wegner, use the expanse of screen they’ve been given as if it were a precious resource, making the most of a purple-velour mountain backdrop or the interior of the Burbanks’ large but airless house, a stifling arena of melancholy mahogany furniture and Persian rugs topped with gratuitous bearskins. This is a movie as big as the open sky, but one where human emotions are still distinctly visible, as fine and sharp as a blade of grass.

Gave it a 100 on Metacritic

From Glenn Kenny’s review for Roger Ebert:

[….] This is a beautifully crafted movie with some individual scenes that are some of the tensest I’ve experienced in some time. Ultimately, I did not feel its themes cohering as much as they might. But, as with any Campion film, there’s a lot of meat on its bones. 

From Kevin Maher’s review for The Times:

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jane Campion, take a bow. The pair have united to deliver an indecently powerful western that is instantly, on day two of the Venice Film Festival, the movie to beat for the festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award, and indeed the frontrunner at next year’s Oscars.

5/5 stars