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The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion

Jane Campion returns with her first film since 2009’s Bright Star with this tense, brooding western based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. Like the titular instrument standing on the beach in The Piano, Campion’s work has long explored the depths of the human soul amidst the vastness of the natural world and The Power of the Dog continues that tradition to dazzlingly dark effect.

“its bite cuts as deep as its bark”

Set in 1925, the film focuses on two brothers who work and live on a ranch in the unforgiving Montana wilderness; mild-mannered George (Jesse Plemons) and the hard, brutally masculine Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch, in a menacing performance critics are calling the best of his career). When George’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her sensitive son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) move in with them, Phil sees this as a transgression of their established, very male living situation and embarks on a campaign of psychological warfare against Rose and Peter, cruelly taunting them both at every opportunity, often flanked by his posse of leering ranch hands. But as with all Campion films, there are hidden depths to these characters, long-buried passions that they dare not voice, even to themselves. 

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood continues his streak of exemplary soundtrack work, and the photography by award-winning cinematographer Ari Wegner is stunning throughout. So effortlessly engrossing is the result that happily it feels like Campion has never been away. The power of this dog is that its bite cuts as deep as its bark. 

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