An elegy for a dying world

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKensie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy
Rating: (R13)


Jane Campion’s first feature in 12 years, The Power of the Dog (Rialto, Metro), an adaptation of the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, has almost everything you could possibly want in a film - brilliant dialogue and performances, gorgeous cinematography and production design, a musical score to die for - except for, perhaps, a highly compelling narrative, although I think that might be beside the point.

Shot in and around Central Otago last year (production stopped during the lockdown period), with scenes also filmed in Dunedin and Oamaru, it centres around two very different brothers living on a Montana cattle ranch in 1925.

Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brash, hardworking realist with a mean streak, while George (Jesse Plemons) is quiet and kind, if a little naive to the ways of the land.

When George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a widow who runs a restaurant with her shy and awkward son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), bringing them to live at the ranch, it sets the scene for a repressed hotbed of tension, conflict and revelation as the four personalities attempt to navigate the situation.

This might sound like a lurid, melodramatic set-up but Campion’s concerns are far more to do with the thematic and the symbolic, the emphasis always on the smaller observations and details, which contrast beautifully with the wide open landscape, and while the story might leave some viewers cold, it’s nevertheless a timely and captivating visual poem - an elegy for a dying world on the precipice of an uncertain new.

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