Why The Power of The Dog is One of the Best Films on Netflix

Netflix may be under fire for its latest controversy with its subscribers, but that hasn’t stopped the platform from putting out some great films that have shaped the face of cinema and filmmaking, while audiences were able to stream from the comfort of their own homes . Some of those films have included The Irishman, Romaand Mudbound. However, those films have really been dwarfed with the release of The Power of the Dogstarring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons.

The film is based upon Thomas Savage’s 1967 book of the same name, and centers around two wealthy rancher brothers named Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who come across restaurant owner Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter ( Kodi Smit-McPhee). George is a kinder and softer man who marries Rose, while Phil is a mean-spirited, vicious, and toxic rancher who believes that Rose is simply after their land.

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The film has been widely acclaimed by critics and audiences for its cast, direction, and cinematography, and was nominated for the 11 Academy Awards, where Jane Campion received an Oscar for Best Director. However, that’s only a small fraction of what makes the film great, and the Oscars are not the only reason as to why this film remains one of Netflix’s crowning achievements. Of course, if all the aspects of the film’s greatness were named, we would be here all day.

Related: Oscars 2022: Jane Campion Wins Best Director for The Power of the Dog

Benedict Cumberbatch is at His Peak

Most people will know Benedict Cumberbatch from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Dr. Stephen Strange, but the actor has truly proven his range with The Power of the Dog. His portrayal of Phil Burbank is a mixture of insecurity and cruel vitriol. He is first shown to mock Rose’s son Peter about his feminine mannerisms, but as the film continues, he shows a softer side to Peter, and tells him of his “unconventional” relationship with his old mentor, Bronco Henry.

Cumberbatch has a sensitivity in his character that balances between being hateful and sympathetic. His performance almost rivals that of John Wayne or Walter Brennan in old western films, and he captures the audience with his penchant for having a violent temper, while at the same time, hiding a secret that shames him. It seems almost impossible for an actor to follow through with a role of this kind of caliber.

Queer Themes Help the Story Thrive

In addition to Cumberbatch’s gripping performance, the film’s Queer themes have allowed it to elevate itself above a common western. Much like Brokeback Mountain and Milk, The Power of the Dog has Queer themes that keep onlookers hooked. Phil Burbank is actually a closeted gay man, who masks his unorthodox sexual preferences with gruff and a hard exterior to mislead anyone that might suspect otherwise.

His secret comes to light when Peter finds that Phil has been having intimate moments with Bronco Henry’s scarf in a nearby pool, and at first, Phil reacts with hostility, but then shows Peter some decency after they spend more time together.

As the film continues, Phil slowly begins to detail more of his time with Bronco Henry, and becomes a more sympathetic character as audiences now understand where his insecurities have come from, and why he prides himself in remaining arrogant and macho for his own self- preservation; in contrast to the aforementioned Queer films that seem more proud in their depictions.

It Hearkens Back to Old Westerns

Something that makes this particular film so magnificent in its scope is the fact that it truly understands the history of older western films, even though much of the filming took place in New Zealand. Films like Stagecoach, True Gritand High Noon have paved the way for the Netflix film and The Power of the Dog drenches in its western excellence while paying homage to the earlier classics that were a staple in Hollywood, and still are to this day.

Netflix’s grand western films on location, and does away with any Hollywood CGI that is primarily used in blockbuster films. It prides itself on authenticity and uses its lack of visual effects to its advantage, by restraining the CGI and finding visual splendor in its cinematography, like all westerns were supposed to be made.

Related: Sam Elliott Apologizes for The Power of the Dog Criticism: ‘I Feel Terrible’

The Platform’s Boldest Endeavor

In addition to Cumberbatch’s powerhouse performance, its themes, and ability to stay true to western cinema, The Power of the Dog is probably Netflix’s boldest film to date. Films like The Irishman and Mank are certainly worth talking about, but they don’t hold the sheer tour-de-force of this 2021 Oscar-Winner.

It blends action, subtle tranquility, and an earnestness for American culture in the 1920s that has cinema captured in its finest hour. The film’s warm cinematography and chilling performances are what make it such a winning outing for the streaming platform. Most likely, it will become an American classic, and be inducted into the Library of Congress.


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