discovering and sharing the music that moves us

Jane Campion Triumphantly Returns With ‘The Power of the Dog’

It’s been twelve long years since Jane Campion’s last feature film, the sumptuously romantic period drama “Bright Star.”

She’s certainly made up for lost time with her latest, a powerhouse adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel.

In Montana during the mid-1920s, Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his brother George (Jesse Plemons) are running their family ranch. Phil has a mean streak and establishes his dominance by frequently mocking George’s weight and generally being a rotten human being.

When George takes a liking to a young widow named Rose (Kirsten Dunst, hopefully headed towards a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination) and quickly marries her, it sets off something in Phil that only exacerbates his already unpleasant demeanor. He exhibits this in many ways, but frequently by terrorizing Rose’s fey son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) every chance he gets.

I honestly wasn’t sure that Cumberbatch had it in him to pull off such a despicable character, but he truly excels in it. There is a cruelty to Phil that is often laid out right on the table, but also at times far more subtle. He somehow makes the plucking of guitar strings from another room become just as menacing as his physical presence.

Phil’s actions slowly cause Rose and Peter to unravel, one of them turns to the bottle and the other gets a little more creative in their response. What happens from there should remain elusive until you see it for yourself.

It’s a shame that most viewers will only get to see this on their televisions where it will undoubtedly still look beautiful, but can’t capture the majesty of the location. Cinematographer Ari Wegner (“Lady Macbeth,” “Zola”) gorgeously captures the scenic mountain ranges and surrounding landscape in beautifully framed widescreen shots that truly deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who already has wowed us this year with his work on “Spencer” and also composed for the upcoming “Licorice Pizza,” adds to the building tension with a striking piano and string-heavy score.

Campion, who won the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the Venice International Film Festival in September, will hopefully not make us wait another twelve years to see what she does next. “The Power of the Dog” ranks amongst her finest works.

“The Power of the Dog” is playing in select theaters nationwide now. It begins streaming December 1 on Netflix. The service also currently is featuring her previous features “The Piano,” “In The Cut,” and “Bright Star” for streaming.

About Author