The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s first feature in a decade, is a film that’s bound to keep one unbalanced – for its genre subversions, psychological interplays and character dichotomies. It’s a spare, moody and stunningly composed revisionist Western, but it’s temporal setting, locational vistas and stylistic archetypes aside, it’s almost an anti-Western in how it’s focused on complicated relationships and anachronous thematic explorations. It’s a brooding, and oftentimes ferocious, meditation on a man’s complex relationship with his brother, demons, vocation, identity, garbled notions of manhood, and most importantly, conflicted sexuality. Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the quintessential Western anti-hero – tough, macho, taciturn, gruff, unpredictable, with natural-born leadership qualities and a sinister penchant for violence; and yet, ironically, he was academically brilliant, has a talent in music, is emotionally bound to his brother George (Jesse Plemons) – whose plump, soft-spoken, gentle demeanour, and intellectual mediocrity couldn’t make them more antithetical – to the point where it’s discomfiting, and is ravaged by a scalding sense of conflicts, guilt and vulnerability. His brazen and brutal self-assuredness, therefore, are profoundly affected when George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst) – a widowed and emotionally fragile single mother bordering on alcoholism – and brings her to their home; and if his brother’s love getting divided isn’t enough, they’re joined in their arid cattle ranch by Rose’s frail and artistic young son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who Phil torments to start with but takes him under his wings with feelings bordering on homoerotic, the way he’d once become a protégé to his dashing late mentor he hero-worships. The oblique and gripping tale bordering on the gothic – laced with ambiguity and simmering melodrama – is led by a terrific, smouldering turn by Cumberbatch.
Director: Jane Campion
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Western
Country: New Zealand