The Power of the Dog

By Joanna Langfield

Jane Campion’s purposeful psychodrama is of a time, but its power, for those paying attention, is timeless.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives one of his slyest and I think best performances as a Montana rancher, back home after attending Harvard, in 1925. Angry and brooding, Phil emits a threat to just about everyone around him, but in particularly to his brother’s new wife, the widow, Rose. He makes it plain he doesn’t want her around. And he makes it even clearer he doesn’t want her son, the intellectual and artistic Peter, around either. With a fury that just about seeps out of his pores, Phil bullies them both, not just physically but emotionally. And his actions take their toll.

Drawn from a long forgotten novel, Campion assures the themes of abuse and, possibly, revenge, echo for today’s audience. But she never sacrifices her signature artistic intent. The film is almost shocking in its slow, but steady visual beauty, a terrific contrast to the rather ugly story it tells.

And then there’s the cast. Kirsten Dunst and the always wonderful Jesse Plemons lead a fine group of supporting players, but it’s Kodi Smit-McPhee who astounds as the vulnerable son. I loved watching him here, bringing a great, beautifully calibrated counterpoint to Cumberbatch’s latest, and maybe most impressive work.