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San Diego Film Festival

San Diego Film Festival celebrates our eleventh anniversary with five days filled with 100 award-winning films; intimate gatherings with filmmakers and celebrities; high-powered industry workshops and four nights of San Diego`s most glamorous parties.




"The Power of the Dog" - REVIEW





San Diego Film Festival Reviews: “The Power of the Dog”, United Kingdom, 2021, directed by Jane Campion.


Friday night's third gala screening was of the latest addition into the western genre, The Power of the Dog, set to release in the US by Netflix on December 1st.


The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank; a grimy cattle rancher who’s erratic behavior perpetuates a constant sense of fear and uneasiness in those surrounding him. Alongside him is his brother George (Jesse Plemons), a clean shaven, well dressed man with a discernible hesitancy about the way his brother operates. Phil reminisces about distant days spent ranching alongside his mentor Henry Branco, while George seems to have his eyes fixed on new horizons. Problems ensue on the ranch when George brings home a new wife named Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Discomfort erupts as George goes out of town, causing conflict between Phil’s masculinity and Peter’s meekness to propel Rose into a slippery slope of substance issues. What follows is a series of dark revelations uncovering deeply burrowed secrets.


Jane Campion does a remarkable job of crafting slow pulsing tension, which practically simmers off the screen, as characters are constantly challenged by the macho-western environment surrounding them. This is made possible due to the unbelievably talented ensemble of actors she surrounds herself with. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s performances are particularly strong, as the two challenge traditional western tropes and convey the fragility of masculinity in an isolated western landscape. Kirsten Dunst has especially received an enormous amount of buzz surrounding her performance as Rose, which will probably secure her a plethora of nominations leading up to awards season. While her performance is certainly good, her character felt a bit out of place towards the second act of the film. Whether this is because of her acting or because of the way her character was written, I don’t know, but Rose feels very mellow-dramatic at times as a result of her emotional responses towards characters not feeling earned. This being said, the performance is nowhere near mediocre and still contributes immensely to the overall ensemble.


Besides the cast, there are two other stars whose contributions to the film really stand out. One being the score from none other than Radiohead’s lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the other being the breathtaking cinematography from Ari Wegner. These two aspects of the film compliment each other so well and synchronously drive the main themes of the film forward. Wegner’s camerawork gives odes to iconic Western movies while simultaneously creating her own images guaranteed to be placed into the annals of movie history. Greenwood’s score is reminiscent of his other works, specifically his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson, but is uniquely its own. It perfectly encapsulates the brooding atmosphere of the film and much like his other work, reconstructs the typical blue-print of genre scores; In this case, the western.


Overall, Jane Campion has made an incredibly refreshing installment into the western genre that will stand highly amongst its predecessors throughout history. It secured a nomination for the highly esteemed “Golden Lion Award” at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, as well as a win for the equally regarded “Silver Lion Award” for Jane Campion; Venice’s equivalent to “Best Director.” It’s accolades will surely not stop there.


Score: 4/5


Written By Michael Schnee







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About San Diego Film Festival

San Diego Film Festival celebrates the art & style of film for five days in September with 100 award-winning films; intimate gatherings with filmmakers and celebrities; high-powered industry workshops and five nights of San Diego`s most glamorous parties!

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