review

'The Power of the Dog': a wild ride with Jane Campion

Benedict Cumberbatch, of all people, plays a rough, tough rancher.
Onze score

Yippee ki-yay, motherfuckers! In the rough and wonderful psychowestern The Power of the Dog, the unsurpassed Jane Campion studies rancid ranchers.

Yihaa, Netflix is awarding the new Jane Campion film a cinematic career. A good thing that is too, because The Power of the Dog demonstrates the power of cinema, not only with breathtaking photography of landscapes that beg for myths and great stories. She was the first woman to win a Golden Palm with The Piano in 1993. She was also the only one for a long time, until this summer Julia Ducournau shot the main bird at the Cannes Festival with her gender fluid horror film Titane.

Partly because Campion cut her teeth on a TV series, the excellent Top of the Lake, it has been twelve years since the New Zealand director of such wonderful films as Bright Star, An Angel at my Table and Sweetie presented a new film. For the first time, she essentially focuses on male characters. She found inspiration in a novel by the American Thomas Savage.

Real men don't bathe. Or at least not in a bathtub. A strong body odour proves your working strength and masculinity. Phil Burbank, who runs a large ranch in the Montana of a hundred years ago with his brother George (Jesse Plemons), who does appreciate modern comfort, suggests something along those lines. To his horror, the brother marries a widow (Kirsten Dunst). To his even greater horror, she has a son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who does take baths, loves flowers, studies medicine and can't even ride a horse.

Bad boy Benedict
The callous alpha cowboy who imposes his suffocating macho ethos and old-fashioned view of masculinity on all those around him takes pleasure in making everyone's life a living hell for some dark reason. The sturdy male seems unable to lose the cruel power play with the newcomers to the ranch but it derails ugly.

It suggests that Campion is here venturing into a de- or reconstruction of the primal American western genre. The cowboy mythology also interests her but in terms of atmosphere, content and belief in full-blooded cinema about destructive men, The Power of the Dog is more in line with Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful gems There Will Be Blood and The Master. She also uses the same fantastic film composer as Anderson: Radiohead musician Jonny Greenwood.

1776 the-power-of-the-dog2
Real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst fall prey to Cumberbatch’s power games.

No matter how fabulously beautiful the light falls on the vast and breathtaking landscapes, her film becomes increasingly dark. More than once you have the feeling of wandering around in Campion's bad dream. Or Benedict Cumberbatch's. Because yes, the rough, tough rancher who castrates bulls is played by the finely-honed Brit from The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange and the TV series Sherlock. He's doing so well it's like you can smell him.

Even apart from the drama, The Power of the Dog is a blissful experience. With great pleasure and an eye for beauty and expression, Campion films the horses, the natural beauty and the cowboys who look like satyrs. It earned her the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival. What a ride that Campion is riding.

THE POWER OF THE DOG
US, UK, NZ, dir.: Jane Campion, act.: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons

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