Marking the first film in 12 years from the director (who did do the TV series “Top of the Lake” in between), Campion has adapted a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, set in Montana during the 1920s. While the western tone and subject matter has drawn comparisons to “Brokeback Mountain,” the story feels distinctive, and owes as much to Campion’s signature movie “The Piano” with its strained relationships in a harsh, remote environment.
Life on the ranch takes its toll on Rose, but she’s understandably concerned when Peter returns from school and begins spending time with Phil, who has seemingly taken it upon himself to make a man out of the boy, while reminiscing about his own schooling from a cowboy known as Bronco Henry. Yet his motives and virtually everyone else’s remain suspect, creating a sense of menace and tension that lingers throughout.
The cast is uniformly good, though Cumberbatch has the showiest role as the intense, brooding cowboy, who fears and resents change or any of the social niceties to which his brother aspires. When George hosts guests, Phil bristles at the suggestion that he should clean up before dinner, tersely announcing, “I stink. And I like it.”
Netflix clearly harbors awards aspirations for the movie, and the film earns a place in that conversation.
“The Power of the Dog” premieres in select US theaters on Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 on Netflix. It’s rated R.