Jane Campion’s first feature since 2009’s Bright Star, The Power of the Dog is a subtle spin on sibling rivalry, repressed emotions and rural living. Based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, its story dials back to 1920s Montana and into the world of the ranch-owning Burbank brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). The more bookish of the two, George manages the business while the rough-hewn Phil can more typically be found castrating cattle.
When George meets and marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), widowed mother to sensitive teen Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee), it sends Phil into an apoplectic rage. Soon, he’s brutally haranguing Rose, who starts to self-medicate with booze, and ominously befriending Pete. But there’s more to this story than jealousy and rage, as Campion drops hints about hidden love from the past that might well be a dangerous thing in cowboy country.
Beautifully filmed (with New Zealand doubling for the States), The Power of the Dog is surely Campion’s most elegant movie since The Portrait of a Lady or even The Piano. True, it has a tendency to meander and lands Last Night in Soho’s Thomasin McKenzie with an underwritten role. But at its heart is a brooding Cumberbatch, offering one of the shrewdest performances of his career. The Road’s Smit-McPhee also impresses, especially as his character grows more important in the film’s final, unexpected third.
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is out now on Netflix. For more, check out the best Netflix movies available to stream.