The Power of the Dog

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Power of the Dog, directed by Academy Award-winning director Jane Campion, and her first feature film in twelve years.  The movie presents itself as a Western, but it’s actually a bleak character study set in a Western context.  Filled with impressive camera work and interesting performances, The Power of the Dog spends far too much time documenting the misanthropy of its central character Phil, a hard-driving cattle rancher who is not what he seems.  Cumberbatch’s acting definitely earns our attention, but his character’s underlying mystery is telegraphed early on.  The movie’s primary concern is to make the audience uncomfortable watching Phil make the lives of the other characters miserable.  Ultimately, it tests our patience and concludes with an intriguing payoff that almost makes it all  worthwhile, but not quite.  Not recommended.

Continue reading “The Power of the Dog”


Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is a gem of a movie and easily one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2021.  An autobiographical take on his own childhood, the movie focuses on the last year Buddy (Branagh’s stand-in) and his family lived in Belfast, Ireland before financial troubles and The Troubles forced them to relocate to Manchester.

Belfast is a beautiful movie, perfectly shot in gorgeous black-and-white.  Yes, B&W is the go-to way to depict the past (see: Mank, Roma, The Lighthouse).  Unlike other films, where B&W seems more like a gimmick, each scene in Belfast takes on a storybook quality that invites you in instead of drawing attention to itself.  The acting is exceptional throughout, featuring touching performances by Caitriona Balfe as Ma and Jamie Dornan as Pa.  Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds round out the exceptional supporting cast as Granny and Pop.  Their scenes together, where Pop’s Irish Wisdom meets its match in Granny’s acerbic wit, are priceless.  Branagh struck gold in casting Jude Hill as Buddy, an unknown before this movie but likely a rising star from here on out.

If I could only use one word to describe Belfast, it would be affection.  Branagh, and by extension Buddy, clearly loves everything about this period of his life: his family and friends, the neighborhood and its streets, even the thick clouds that fill the sky.  Branagh’s story is a sentimental one, but it’s emotions are earned honestly.  The script is pitch perfect, with every conversation feeling real and lived-in.  There are moments of Irish wit, but that comes with the territory.  (The movie is incredibly funny throughout.)

Belfast represents Branagh’s most personal directorial effort yet.  In a career that started with much fanfare, only to dovetail into more workaday projects (Thor, Cinderella, Artemis Fowl), this movie represents more than a return to form.  It’s an elevation of his art to an entirely new level.  Highly recommended.

Continue reading “Belfast”