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The Power of the Dog

Director Jane Campion is a force to be reckoned with. Her latest film, the sweeping Western The Power of the Dog, is simply put a masterpiece.

Set in 1920s Montana, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a troubled  rancher with a domineering streak. He runs a cattle drive with his brother George (Jesse Plemons) who is the polar opposite of him; a much more subdued and gentle soul. When George falls in love with widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil’s world seems to be turned upside down. He despises George’s new wife and her slender and effeminate teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).  Rose turns to alcohol to deal with the turbulent situation with Phil and Peter develops a strange bond with Phil that is ultimately volatile.

Stunningly shot, almost every frame of The Power of the Dog seems like it could be framed and hung up in a museum. There is a brutality to the setting that adds a sense of cruelty to the story and the characters. The landscape is unforgiving and so are the people who exist on it. I love how objects hold power in the story: a cowhide, a paper flower, a  memorial plate, a stack of magazines, etc. This film begs to be watched more than once. 

The characters are fascinating. Phil and Peter’s sexuality is explored in such a subtle yet powerful way.  I particularly enjoyed the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch who gives his role a natural intensity it deserves and Dunst whom we follow so anxiously as her character wallows in despair.

Jane Campion is one of my favorite directors. The Portrait of a Lady (1996), although not considered one of her best, is a personal favorite.  The Power of the Dog is a triumph and I hope we see more from her very soon.

The Power of the Dog is currently streaming on Netflix.

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