Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is described as “severe, pale-eyed, handsome” and “brutally beguiling.” And seeing him don a stetson and whistle with sheer menace in the film’s first teaser certainly fits that description.
But he’s also an unusual focal point for director Jane Campion (“The Piano”). “The Power of the Dog” is not just her first feature film since 2009’s “Bright Star.” It’s also the first film she’s done with a male protagonist, bringing her distinct feminist — and Australian — sensibility to an American Western about masculinity.
“The Power of the Dog” is adapted from a 1967 cult novel by Thomas Savage that was considered ahead of its time in depicting repressed sexuality.
The book is set in 1925 and follows two wealthy ranchers in Montana who meet a widowed proprietress at a restaurant and her impressionable son. Cumberbatch’s character is especially cruel toward the woman, and that whistling isn’t just a tick, as it’s his form of taunting her, whistling a tune she can no longer play. But when Cumberbatch’s character begins to take her boy under his wing, it begs the question whether his behavior is a sign of him softening or a plot twisting further into menace.
Starring alongside Benedict Cumberbatch are Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Frances Conroy, Keith Carradine, Peter Carroll and Adam Beach. Campion wrote and directed the film, and “The Power of the Dog” also features a score by Oscar nominee Jonny Greenwood.
“The Power of the Dog” opens first at the Venice Film Festival and will also play the New York Film Festival as their centerpiece film. Netflix will release it in theaters on Nov. 17, and it will drop on the streaming service on Dec. 1.
Check out the first teaser here and above.