The Power of the Dog parents guide

The Power of the Dog Parent Guide

This is not your typical Western. It's a slow, subtle, and very dark interpersonal drama.

Overall C

Netflix: Part Western, part psychological thriller, this is the story of Phil Burbank, a charismatic but cruel rancher who torments his sister-in-law and her teenage son.

Release date December 1, 2021

Violence C
Sexual Content D
Profanity B
Substance Use C

Why is The Power of the Dog rated R? The MPAA rated The Power of the Dog R for brief sexual content, full nudity

Run Time: 126 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Although brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) own a successful ranch in the Montana prairie, things are not well between them. Phil is a rough and dirty rancher, a man who values working with his hands and considers bathing effeminate. George, on the other hand, is perfectly content to let the ranch hands manage the cattle, and focuses more on the business of running a large agricultural operation. Those differences have caused no small amount of tension between the two, but nothing drives a wedge between them more than George’s decision to marry local widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst). Phil is convinced she’s just another gold-digger, using George’s wealth to put her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) through medical school. The pressure isn’t just on George, though, and Phil’s constant hostility towards her and her son drives Rose to drink, further destabilizing the family. But Phil has his own secrets, and as things fall apart, so does Phil’s ability to keep everybody out of his business.

As you might have guessed, this is not an action-packed neo-Western. It’s a slow, subtle, interpersonal drama, and the most action you’re going to see is watching cows get castrated. (If you’re lucky enough not to have seen it before, I’ll warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.) On the other hand, the cast is phenomenal. Benedict Cumberbatch, in particular, excels in his role as the disruptive Phil, bringing a nail-biting tension to every scene he’s in. Not since Deliverance has banjo music made me so nervous.

The film sees southern New Zealand filling in for the Montana setting, but if New Zealand can stand in for Middle Earth, it can handle Montana just fine. Frankly, as someone who’s spent a fair bit of time in Montana, I would have assumed they shot on location. In a film like this, the location is almost a character in its own right, and the deliberate focus on the hills around the Burbank ranch emphasizes the setting’s significance, both to the story and the characters.

On basis of the slow pacing and personal subject matter alone, The Power of the Dog is not a great film for younger audiences. Further cementing this as an adult movie are the scenes of male nudity and sexuality, which are unlikely to win the film over with some adult audiences either. On the other hand, there’s hardly any profanity, which is unusual, particularly for an “R” rated film. But if unsettling family drama is your thing, I don’t think a little bit of nudity is going to curb your enjoyment of this dark little western.

Directed by Jane Campion. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee. Running time: 126 minutes. Theatrical release December 1, 2021. Updated

Watch the trailer for The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Power of the Dog rated R? The Power of the Dog is rated R by the MPAA for brief sexual content, full nudity

Violence: Cattle carcasses are dismembered and their hides are removed. A man repeatedly strikes a horse. A rabbit is seen being dissected. Cattle are castrated. There are references to suicide and death.
Sexual Content: There are several scenes which include male nudity in a non-sexual context. A man is briefly seen masturbating without graphic nudity. Several suggestive magazines are seen. A married couple are heard having sex in another room.
Profanity: There are infrequent uses of mild profanities and several terms of deity. There is one use of a homophobic slur.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen smoking tobacco and drinking, sometimes to excess. One character is depicted as struggling with alcohol addiction.

Page last updated

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Viewers looking for strange, introspective, unsettling dramas may also enjoy Enemy, The Lighthouse, I’m Thinking of Ending Things(which also stars Jesse Plemons), Pan’s Labyrinth, The Master, The Lodge, There Will be Blood, or The Little Stranger. Another recent Western is Old Henry.