The Power of the Dog is an old fashioned western with a new fashioned twist. After her previous nomination with The Piano, Jane Campion became the second consecutive woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. Although I’m certain that’s a big reason for its acclaim, The Power of the Dog is an engaging character study. It was nominated for 12 Oscars, but only won 1 for Best Director. The last movie to do that was The Graduate back in 1967. The last movie to win 1 while losing 11 was Becket back in 1964. Though The Power of the Dog seemed like a shoo-in to win Best Picture, CODA was the true underdog.
Ironically it became a competition between Netflix and Apple TV+. The scenic western production value earned it several technical nominations for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, and Sound. Every single award was lost to Dune. The original 1967 book by Thomas Savage works surprisingly well in the 2020’s. It’s actually another gay cowboy movie nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although it’s a bit more subtle with metaphors and symbolism. Campion’s style can be seen through character relationships, male nudity, and there’s even a piano. The entire cast deserved their respective nominations.
It’s an unexpectedly good ensemble that includes Doctor Strange, Nightcrawler, Mary Jane Watson, and her husband. Thomasin McKenzie is the only New Zealand native in the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surly rancher with a convincing southern drawl. Phil belittles his brother George and his eventual wife Rose. Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst are a convincing married couple since they are one in real life. Although they were nominated in the same year, neither of them won. Dunst plays Rose as a miserable alcoholic who takes abuse from her brother in-law. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays her unmanly son Peter who gets roped up in Phil’s world. Though it seems like an attraction, Peter is more devious than he lets on. The Power of the Dog is slow, but powerful.