Jane Campion’s Oscar-tipped Netflix period drama pits two opposed men against each other with thrilling, and surprising, results

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is a film of reveals: some gradual and ruthlessly calculated, others abrupt and careless and hastily re-concealed. Bodies and desires are unwittingly exposed to others. Motivations are guarded until it’s too late to change them. When they slip, they show us the secret lives and minds of men who want to seem more straight and simple than they are.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is the film is a reveal in itself. It’s aggressive and dissonant and off-kilter in ways the refined British actor rarely permits himself to be on screen, and I spent a good portion of the film’s running time figuring out if I liked it or not. Whenever he plays American, Cumberbatch gives the appearance of acting more than usual, and such is the case here: cast very much against type as crude, caustic Montana rancher Phil Burbank, his growling drawl and wide-gaited cowboy swagger feel like put-ons, almost distractingly unnatural to him — even as his presence fixes your gaze with eerie insistence.

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