Based on the 1967 novel of the same name from Thomas Savage is acclaimed director Jane Campion’s newest film. She has already won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for The Piano back in 1993 and was nominated for Best Director. She’s been nominated for the Primetime Emmys for her television mini-series Top of the Lake as well. Needless to say, she is thought of as a great auteur. The Power of the Dog hopes to garner her and Netflix more acclaim.
The Power of the Dog takes place in Montana in 1925. The film depicts the life of a man (Jesse Plemons, Game Night) who marries a local restaurateur (Kirsten Dunst, Interview With a Vampire) in a sleepy Old West town. Dunst and Plemons are married in real life as well. His brother (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock), a rancher, is a domineering sort who doesn’t approve of their nuptials. He takes his anger out on the woman’s meek, mild-mannered and effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Slow West). This causes issues that end in tragedy.
Filmed in New Zealand, The Power of the Dog has a look to it that brings tears to my eyes. It’s one of the most beautiful films of the year. Ari Wegner, the cinematographer, has used the New Zealand terrain as his backdrop for Montana in the early 1920s. It stood in perfectly. The dust clouds, blue skies, green mountains, and yellow grassed fields are filtered throughout the film. The look of this film is second to none this year. It is not hard when you have such a beautiful place to set or move your camera. It’ll surely garner awards consideration come next year.
Another terrific aspect of the film is the score by Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood has already had a great year with scores for Spencer and Licorice Pizza to his credit. Greenwood creates a haunting piece for this film, even using whistles as part of the score to add dread when Cumberbatch’s character comes around. The whistling is on par with John Carpenter’s Halloween score to some extent. It’s one of the most haunting things you’ll hear all year long, maybe for a long time. The strings and cellos are a nice mixture of sounds that contrast the dreadful whistling. Horns and keys eventually follow as the film progresses. Greenwood will surely be a nominee for the best composer at the Oscars next year for one of his scores from 2021.
Cumberbatch cuts quite a gib as a rancher in the 1920s. After playing a lot of heroes and creative geniuses such as Steven Strange, Louis Wain, and Alan Turing, he takes a menacing turn as this man dead set on ruining this innocent boy’s life. He lives his life like his idol “Bronco” Henry. It’s a cowboy’s life for him. When an illness befalls Dunst’s character, all hell happens and Cumberbatch’s character goes off the deep end. His last straw is when she gives away his hides to some Native Americans passing by the ranch. Cumberbatch channels a bit of Daniel Day-Lewis from There Will Be Blood in this film.
Campion crafts quite a haunting tale of dread and pain while also showing beauty at the same time. She delivers an Old West tale that is one of the best films of the year. Illness and disease are hidden just under the surface of the film that exudes breathtaking beauty not seen before or since this year. A more reserved but menacing Cumberbatch stalks around with a scowl on his face. He’s never been this way before in any film he’s been in. Dunst, Plemons, and Smit-McPhee are all fine in supporting roles. The score by Greenwood is one of the best of the year. This isn’t one of the most accessible films of the year, but it’s one of the best. Being on Netflix will allow audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands to watch it as award season nears.
Dan Skip Allen