By Anna Berkowitz
I’m not sure anyone has given Benedict Cumberbatch a glance and thought ‘wow, he’d be great in a Western’, but in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, he gives an utterly convincing turn as Phil Burbank – a cruel, wealthy rancher from Montana. He delivers a nuanced portrayal of a man dealing with repressed past and present emotions.
Campion, the first woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, faithfully adapted Thomas Savage’s little known 1967 novel of the same name, applying her signature sweeping style to a tense family drama. The film follows a fairly basic plotline, in which brothers George and Phil Burbank (Jesse Plemmons and Cumberbatch respectfully) run the area’s largest cattle ranch, living and working together on their family’s land. The peace is disrupted as George marries local widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), bringing her and her son Peter (an excellent Kodi Smit-McKee) to live on the ranch. The film centers around Phil’s cruelty towards Rose and his viciousness towards Peter. However, what initially seems like a predictable story gives way to continual twists, illustrating Campion’s ability to reveal unexpected layers of her characters.
Set in a striking New Zealand landscape, which doubles surprisingly well as the American West, the film delicately deals with the power dynamics of toxic masculinity and homophobia, while developing four incredibly detailed character studies of the leads. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood crafted a tense, string-heavy score, which heightens the tension throughout. The shots alternating from extreme close-ups to images of the surrounding mountains, courtesy of cinematographer Ari Wegner, exude feelings of Western grandeur, keeping the audience engaged and guessing until the very last minute.
Hi, I’m Anna Berkowitz. I’m from Berkeley, California, and I’m a General Course student, in my third year, studying International Relations and Literature. In the limited time that I have outside of the wonderful world of academia, I enjoy running, reading, playing flute, and spending all my money on cinema tickets and books. I love writing about new films, and tv, especially anything in the science fiction or fantasy genre. If you’d like to get in touch about anything at all, my email is email@example.com, and my Instagram is @anna.berkowiz