Jane Campion’s first feature film in twelve years is The Power of the Dog, an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. Ahead of the film’s premiere at Venice, the teaser has dropped and it features Benedict Cumberbatch whistling menacingly while Kirsten Dunst expresses varying degrees of panic. Cumberbatch stars as Phil Burbank, a charismatic but mean rancher who does not take to his brother’s new wife nor her son. Dunst and Jesse Plemons play the newlyweds, and Kodi Smit-McPhee—who also stars in the excellent neo-Western Slow West—plays the delicate son that so provokes Phil. Besides the menacing whistling, the teaser also features Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee in a tense, suggestively repressed clinch. Is this a spiritual companion to Brokeback Mountain? The teaser would certainly like you to think so. But maybe don’t invest too much in that notion. This teaser is rife with a lot of unspoken emotion, but undercutting everything is the tension, which even in 90 seconds is almost unbearable. Who knew whistling could sound so scary?
While I’m always happy to see Dunst, Plemmons, and Smit-McPhee, this looks like a showcase for Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s not like he’s been giving bad performances or anything, but doesn’t it feel like it’s been a minute since he’s had a major dramatic role? The last blow-me-out-of-the-water performance I can remember him giving was in Patrick Melrose in 2018. Before that, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—in 2011. Again, not like he’s been sucking it up all over the place or anything, but there have been a lot of ensemble roles (War Horse, 12 Years a Slave, 1917), questionable accents (Black Mass, The Mauritanian), good performances in movies that don’t quite work (The Courier, The Current War, The Imitation Game), and, of course, Marvel eats up a lot of his time. I’m excited to see Jane Campion return to features, and to seeing a classic screen tyrant performance from Cumberbatch. Here’s to a Campion-Cumberbatch awards season.