October 5, 2021

VIFF 2021 | 'The Power of the Dog' Tames the West

"I stink and I like it."
Benedict Cumberbatch Jane Campion | The Power of the Dog Netflix | VIFF 2021
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2021—New Zealand auteur Jane Campion returns to film, after a twelve-year absence, to adapt the 1967 novel The Power of the Dog by American author Thomas Savage. Starring a devilish Benedict Cumberbatch in a career-best performance and the always stellar Jesse Plemons as adversarial rancher brothers in 1925 Montana, the slow western is a piercing family drama about the destructiveness of performative masculinity.

Co-starring Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a mother and son taken in by the brothers, the top-notch cast mirrors the wide-open landscapes of the West with soulful performances of long looks and knowing glances. Everyone says so much by saying so little. Campion's deliberate pace and brooding sense of theatrical storytelling subvert the usual gunslinging or horseback action of the genre.

Scored by Jonny Greenwood, there's a mediative yet haunting sensitivity to the stark film. Cumberbatch trades sarcastic barbs with his domineering, hard-driving personality that wears on those around him, particularly Dunst's quietly suffering Rose. His expression of toughness and gruff showmanship is both somehow brash yet plainly laid out through his demeanour.

Campion's simmering period drama marks her triumphant return to feature filmmaking. Her adaptation of The Power of the Dog is a powerful cinematic mediation on male tension at its finest. Its subtle yet underlying breadth of sour masculine energy drives the repressed emotions of the film's characters superbly.

The Power of the Dog screens at the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Contemporary World Cinema series at the Vancouver Playhouse on October 11th. It also screens at the VIFF Centre starting November 17th and will be available to stream on Netflix on December 1st.

More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Polygon

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