Jane Campion returns to the Festival with her breathtaking and slippery adaptation of Thomas Savage's novel. The film is set in Montana in the 1920s and cinematographer Ari Wegner (TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG) creates landscapes so stunning that I really hope she wins awards for this work. I also implore you to try and see this film on the largest screen you can find when Netflix puts it out on limited release rather than waiting to watch it at home.
The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a cattle rancher called Phil Burbank. When we meet him he's a nasty homophobic misogynistic bully who strides around unwashed and intimidating all and sundry. But as the movie enters its second hour we learn that Phil has many layers and our understanding of him deepens and softens.
The target of Phil's bullying behaviour are his soft-hearted and plain-talking brother George's new wife Rose (played by real life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst). When we meet Rose she is a timid lonely widow, running a small rooming house alongside her teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Both Rose and Peter are mocked by Phil, but his brother George genuinely falls for her and takes her to live in a dark brooding grand house. Rose is intimidated by Phil most of all, but also by George's fancy friends and parents. Dunst breaks our heart with her portrait of a woman brought to ruin by intimidation.
It's absolutely key that we believe in her ruin because that becomes the motivating point of the plot - both her reactions to and the motives of Phil and her son Peter and the relationship they form when he come home from school. What I love about the film is that even as we reach the final fifteen minutes it could go one of many ways depending on our interpretation of each character's feelings and character. I can honestly say that I was genuinely surprised by the outcome, but that when I saw it, I felt it was authentic and had been properly established in prior scenes. In other words, Jane Campion is playing fair with us.
Overall, THE POWER OF THE DOG is just a stunning film - beautifully written, scored, acted, filmed - the pacing perfection and the unfolding mystery gripping.
THE POWER OF THE DOG is rated R and has a running time of 125 minutes. The film played Venice, Toronto and London 2021. It will be released on Netflix on December 1st.
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