It’s not that the Oscar-winning filmmaker from New Zealand, who gave us the unsettling and ravishing THE PIANO hasn’t done anything since then, it’s just that the promise of that film’s tantalizing sexual complexities has never reappeared. Not in all its repressed brutality. Not for me. Not until now.
With THE POWER OF THE DOG, Campion once again uproots the danger of making people who are living lies—face them. And so we are blown along with great gusts of sudden feelings no one sees coming. And it feels scary.
This time the glorious New Zealand landscape stands in for the Big Sky of 1925 Montana. With a nod to Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” Benedict Cumberbatch rides through perfectly as the “bad guy” who thinks everyone else is his weak victim to manipulate. He especially has his brother’s new wife and her effeminate son in his sights.
Except, of course, underneath more is fermenting. Way more. So who’s bad? Who’s good? Who’s weak? Who’s strong? Who wins? Who loses? Who lives? Who dies—and how? Campion yanks our chain until the very last moment, until we finally see what she’s been showing us all along.
Everyone in the film is moving and perfect (Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit -McPhee). But, honestly, Cumberbatch has turned himself physically and mentally into a person he’s never been before. And he did it in the same year he’s delivered his poles-apart, performance in the ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN. Wild and brilliant! He’s the dude!
The Power of the Dog’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, innocent victim or killer?