In 1920’s rural Montana nothing comes easy. Whereas Jesse Pelmon’s George Burbank is an amicable soul, his brother Phil, as played by an on-fire Benedict Cumberbatch, couldn’t be any more toxic. Never wasting any opportunity to taunt his more effete brother, Phil positively revels in his role as a macho cattle driver. So, when mild George decides to marry mild, widowed inn-owner Rose (as played Kirsten Dunst), Phil sets out to destroy both her and her effeminate son as played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Will the dog on Phil’s back succeed in driving them away or will it open an unseen passage that he keeps firmly hidden from the world?
… has so much more to offer than a glance might reveal.
In a return to mainstream adulation, director Jane Campion’s latest movie delivers some beautifully etched performances, none of which initially tell where you’re heading. What is clear though from its opening scene, is the raging antipathy simmering behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s eyes. Seemingly unable to allow himself any kind of joy, lest it is at the expense of somebody else, Cumberbatch’s Phil is a dry-cooked sense of injustice looking for a fresh target to pin itself on to. Yet, whilst this is a definite candidate for Oscar glory a few months hence, Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance isn’t alone here in merit. Real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst as George Rose also match Cumberbatch’s tinder-box fury with two equally amazing-yet-restrained renditions. However, sneaking through all the gold-digger subtext is Kodi Smit-McPhee as Rose’s withdrawn boy, Peter. Finding gold once again in the western genre, as he did with Slow West starring alongside Michael Fassbender, this is a very different yet mesmerising McPhee who honestly matches Cumberbatch’s Phil, turn for twisted turn.
So, whilst a seemingly doomed romance played out once again against huge, languid landscapes, might feel like an unwitting return to pastures familiar (and by that I mean 1993’s The Piano), The Power of The Dog plays a similar ace card with the quality of its cast and its filmmaking. Sporting another exquisite score by much-in-demand Jonny Greenwood, by this point, you’d have to say that if he doesn’t have both hands on the Oscar statuette, then his name is already engraved on the side.
Ultimately, in pitting people against each other to the point of madness in another brush fire waiting to happen, The Power of The Dog becomes The Piano‘s less overwrought cousin. If only separated by an ocean and several decades for some, this story of a put-upon woman caught inside a toxic love triangle has so much more to offer than a glance might reveal.
See it now on Netflix before the Oscars’ hyper machine swings into first gear and steals any delicious impact on a revenge dish best served cold.