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The Benedict Cumberbatch Scene In The Power Of The Dog We Can't Stop Talking About

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a sensational and yet deeply unsettling performance as Phil Burbank in Jane Campion's thrilling adaptation of "The Power of the Dog." Based upon the classic Thomas Savage novel of the same name, the film features Cumberbatch as the rough, ruthless rancher who uses physical, mental, and even emotional intimidation to dominate the people in his domain, all while sheltering his own desires and truth. As effective as his cruelty is — especially when it comes to his mistreatment of his brother's new wife and stepson — deep down, Phil ultimately torments himself most of all.

Cumberbatch's ability to lean into the unspoken complexities of this character shines through in every scene, as his Phil seamlessly vacillates from bemused observance to pure, unbridled rage to hidden heartbreak from moment to moment. Every second of his screen time is powerful and riveting, but there's one sequence in particular that's bound to sear itself into your memory long after the credits roll. Let's take a look at the Benedict Cumberbatch scene in "The Power of the Dog" we can't stop talking about.

No one is off limits

It's clear from the second we meet Phil Burbank in "The Power of the Dog" that this is a man who uses his loaded words as weapons against absolutely anyone, instantly striking fear into those he targets and earning defensive fealty from everyone else around him. It seems to be no secret that he's the kind of person who will not hesitate to seize an opportunity to verbally remind someone of their place, no matter how good a companion they might happen to be for him. And if you can't avoid his abuses, you sure better be able to endure them.

His relationship with his brother, George (Jesse Plemons), for example, only seems to be stable because George manages to remain stoic when, on a whim, his brother takes aim at him with those verbal daggers. Consider the establishing moment when the two brothers are out herding some cattle together in familiar fashion, and what begins as a sunny little trip down memory lane of their 25 years as partners devolves into a flurry of hurtful insults just because George doesn't say exactly what Phil wants to hear at the moment.

Cumberbatch's ability to turn the character's entire demeanor on a dime is sensational, and it sets the tone for the difficult dynamic that's at play in the Burbanks' abode. Of course, that's just the beginning of what's to come from Cumberbatch's spine-tingling character work as Phil Burbank, and those brotherly exchanges become ultra unnerving when the subject of the conversation takes an even more personal tone — at least in Phil's busy mind.

All respect is mandatory

Even before Phil reveals the true reaches of his cruelty by attacking George's stepson, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), over his meticulously hand-crafted paper flowers and then taunting Peter's mom, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), with his mellifluous music duel, there's a moment early in the film when Phil reveals to George — and audiences, by extension — exactly what his biggest button is, with a warning for nobody to touch it.

At this point in the movie, Phil's relationship with the late, great Bronco Henry is still something of a mystery, but he has made it clear enough that he idolizes the man's memory with a level of respect that no one else has — or possibly even could have — earned. And he's quick to invoke his mentor's memory the second he might face any level of slight. Even something as simple as being declined for a drink by his own brother is too great an insult.

So when George decides not to take a shot with Phil before their group dinner at the inn, Phil immediately retaliates with quiet rage, dressing down his brother over his size, lack of education, and, of course, the fact that he owes his entire career to the one and only Bronco Henry. Cumberbatch needs little more than his piercing eyes and clenched jaw to show just how much ferocity is bubbling between his words as he stares George down while discussing the man that made them — or, more specifically, Phil himself. Without raising a pistol or even a fist, Phil does indeed get his brother to stand down and take the requisite sip, which, once again, reestablishes Phil's place as the unconquerable leader of his pack.

Two sides of the coin

It's not just his utter tempestuousness that colors the scene, however. Cumberbatch also does an excellent job of introducing us to an important element of the character when it comes to his hypersensitivity over the mere mention of Bronco Henry's name. While everyone around Phil appears to merely indulge this impromptu but spirited toast as though it is the thousandth of its kind, Phil is wholly committed to honoring Henry's name. He'll accept nothing less than the utmost respect be paid from each and every one of them — George included — and thus lifts the veil on his own tender spot.

Certainly, Cumberbatch is no stranger to delivering excellent, nuanced performances, but in "The Power of the Dog," he artfully balances his character's animalistic exterior with the vulnerability that bubbles beneath his every breath. And this scene of him using an outward show of force against his brother to overshadow his own emotional delicacies is a blistering bit of foreshadowing for almost everything that's ahead for this character and this film.