Jane Campion’s first film since 2009’s John Keats portrait “Bright Star” is a similarly moody study of masculinity, albeit one supplanting a Montana cattle ranch for early 1800s London. The Oscar-winning New Zealand filmmaker (“The Piano”) crafts an ice-blooded, prickly Western — starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemmons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee — about love, repression, and, well, power as the title indeed implies. There’s also Jonny Greenwood’s soothing (i.e. deeply unnerving) string-and-guitar score to massage things along as this quartet comes operatically undone at the hands of a terrifying Cumberbatch. Watch the new trailer for the film below.
Here’s Netflix’s official synopsis:
Severe, pale-eyed, handsome, Phil Burbank is brutally beguiling. All of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and in the land: He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud. He is a cowboy as raw as his hides.
The year is 1925. The Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers in Montana. At the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose, the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable son Peter. Phil behaves so cruelly he drives them both to tears, reveling in their hurt and rousing his fellow cowhands to laughter – all except his brother George, who comforts Rose then returns to marry her.
As Phil swings between fury and cunning, his taunting of Rose takes an eerie form – he hovers at the edges of her vision, whistling a tune she can no longer play. His mockery of her son is more overt, amplified by the cheering of Phil’s cowhand disciples. Then Phil appears to take the boy under his wing. Is this latest gesture a softening that leaves Phil exposed, or a plot twisting further into menace?
This cinematic act of knife-twisting is based on a creepy 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, which is regarded in literary circles and hailed by the likes of Annie Proulx (“Brokeback Mountain”) as something of a lost classic. The story had been floating around Hollywood for years, with even Paul Newman at one point flirting with the idea of taking on tortured rancher Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch).
“It’s a ranch story,” said Campion, who along with her producers secured rights to the novel, in an interview with IndieWire. “Nobody’s got a gun. It’s just on the end of that mythology when the cowhands are working there because they love cowboys of old and they are getting their clothes from the mail orders and dressing as cowboys as a kind of quoting of cowboys.”
The cast also includes Thomasin McKenzie, Frances Conroy, Keith Carradine, Peter Carroll, and Adam Beach. The film releases in theaters on November 17 before hitting the Netflix streaming platform December 1.