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MOVIES: The Power of the Dog - Review

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Jane Campion is one of cinema’s most legendary directors and The Power of the Dog is one of her best works so far – a western that’s unlike anything other in the genre you’ve ever seen before, a slow-burn character study that feels more at home with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward of Robert Ford than Django Unchained or The Harder They Fall, a quieter approach that looks inward rather than outward, exploring themes such as masculinity, both toxic and not, and the gender/power dynamics offset against the backdrop of repression and sexuality. It’s a quieter, sombre film that requires patience – but is absolutely worth the ride.

Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who I’ve struggled with over the past few years and have never truly felt he’s been able to shake the Sherlock comparisons – him being the weakest link in Dr. Strange didn’t help either, but he’s grown more and more experienced with time playing that character and he steps into the role superbly here in a completely transformative performance that will dispel anything else that he’s ever done in your mind – the accent may not wholly be convincing but the two-dimensional portrayal of the charismatic Phil Burbank is fascinating, he’s able to inspire both fear and respect in equal measure as a rancher – living life on the open prairie and terrain. We get a deep insight into how his character works when opposite his brother and the vast differences in personality between them – and Jesse Plemons, one of the best working actors around, delivers his A-Game in this like pretty much the entire cast. His in-built chemistry with his real-world wife Kirsten Dunst is impeccable in a Fargo reunion, and Kodi Smit-McPhee rounds off an impressive series of performances that you could argue awards recognition should be on the cards for every single one of them. Thomasin McKenzie appears for a quick cameo but makes the most out of every scene she’s in – able to feel as chameleonic in the setting as every other actor involved, they all play their characters like you can imagine them existing as their own real people after the director has yelled “cut” in this world, and few films have the depth to do that nowadays with every cast member. Usually you’ll get enough depth for one or two – but here Campion makes sure no expense is spared to cover them all.

Director of photography Ari Wegner has been quietly building her reputation lately as one of the best working in the business, and her unique approach to cinematography leads to an absolutely stunning film that caters as much as possible to the biggest screen you can watch it on. Wegner’s work has led to In Fabric, Lady Macbeth and Zola looking as distinctive as they are – along with True History of the Kelly Gang, and the rich texture of the landscape feeds into the sense of vastness and scale of the piece with exquisite precision. If you're not mentioning Wegner in the same sentence as Roger Deakins or Claire Mathon, The Power of the Dog will absolutely change your mind.

Both Campion and Wegner use the screen as though every shot can tell a whole story – and no resource is spared in its creation, with the outward scope of the western being used to look inwards in a far more complex and nuanced way than its initial outlook may suggest – far from being thin, The Power of the Dog will only cater to more watches as you quickly peel apart its depth with every viewing – a true reconstruction of the genre that tears it apart at its seams with every passing minute. Jonny Greenwood’s score gives the film an air of thriller territory but only feels appropriate as The Power of the Dog progresses – as with his work on Spencer it is exquisitely done and a reminder that he is one of cinema’s best and most hard-working composers on the scene right now. Under the guiding hand of Campion - everything comes together masterfully for a film that absolutely feels worthy of not just a best picture nomination, but hopefully a win.

The Power of the Dog is streaming on Netflix internationally.

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