In her first feature film in more than a decade, Jane Campion delivers a western gothic psychodrama: strange, malevolent, and with an inevitable conclusion that sneaks up on you like a thief. The scenes in which a huge piano is carried into an uncivilized wilderness will be appreciated by Campion fans; eight philistine cowboys are needed to push this into the ranch owner’s parlor, the desert culture icon.
It is on this that the new lady of the house, played by Kirsten Dunst, attempts to master Strauss’ Radetzky March while her jeeringly malign new brother-in-law (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) deliberately puts her off by playing it as well on his banjo – revealing that despite his rough demeanor, he is in fact rather more musically talented than she is. It’s the most intimidating five-string banjo picking since Deliverance.
The setting is 1920s Montana, where two brothers run a successful ranch: Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch) is colorful but boorish, while George (Jesse Plemons), who wears finer clothing and millinery than sweaty Phil, aspires to the high social standing of his elderly parents who apparently staked them in the company.
Phil, a natural bully, insults his brother by calling him “fatso,” encourages his men to taunt him, and is on the fact that George is parasitically reliant on him. But lonely, dysfunctional Phil has a need for emotional intimacy that he satisfies through his quiet, dutiful brother. These grown men live in the same bedroom as children at home because they are emotionally dependent on one another.
When George marries Rose (an outstanding performance by Dunst), a former movie theater piano player now running a cafe, with a sensitive adolescent son called Peter (Smit-McPhee) who waits tables for which he creates amazing paper flowers, to much snickering homophobic abuse from Phil, Phil is outraged. Even so, Phil is fixated on Peter’s delicate papery fronds, a visual echo of the strips of rawhide from which he later creates a frightening rope. Phil makes it his mission to torment and abuse Rose as she slips into despair and alcoholism, but then appears to take an odd parental interest in Peter himself, offering to educate him to ride and bring him out into the remote hills to educate him in the rancher ways, just as “Bronco” did once before.
Campion has taken Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, which is highly praised by E Annie Proux, and made something that generates an air of tragedy, dysfunction, and horror. It’s like something from Ibsen; especially the excruciating moment when George invites his parents and their political pals over for a black-tie formal dinner while poor, miserable Rose is psychologically unable to perform the piano for them.
Occasionally, it may even seem like George Stevens’s Giant from 1956 (and maybe if things had been different, the Peter role might have interested James Dean) – but Smit-McPhee adds something inscrutably complex and reserved to his character’s actions, opaque quality that after the big reveal delivers a retroactive mule-kick of significance. The audience must piece together its meaning after the closing credits, going straight back to the opening narrative voiceover.
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is a masterful work that improves on many aspects of her previous film. Rose, for example, enters the kitchen to speak with the cook, Mrs. Lewis (Geneviève Lemon), and Lola (Thomasin McKenzie). She’s given strange talks and urban legends including one about a dead woman whose hair continued to grow after her death, filling the coffin. You can practically feel Rose’s shudder of terror and fellow-feeling as she imagines herself being like this woman right now. Jane Campion is good at providing dot touches in her movie. You can check it out in her movies which are available for free on Cinema HD
Movie Name: The Power of the Dog
Cast Leads: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kenneth Radley, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Jane Campion
Producer: Jane Campion, Libby Sharpe, Chloe Smith
Written by: Jane Campion, Thomas Savage (based on the novel by)
Music: Jonny Greenwood
Director Of Photography: Ari Wegner
Movie Rating: 3.3/5