“The Power of the Dog”
Whether due to the striking beauty of its story or the film’s relentlessness, I wish “The Power of the Dog” were the last movie to take the stage at the Fairfax Theatre in 2019. This unusual marital drama from Australian director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Mike, a driver and handyman who discovers a small-time smuggler, Josh (Michael Schold), packing loot in the trunk of his car. Josh’s girlfriend (Toni Collette) is an owner of a small canine rescue group and Mike unwittingly finds himself at the center of the lovers’ violent, drug-fueled conspiracy. Mike is both conflicted and jealous, and a shot at more simple amity seems rote but perhaps hints at a human emotional response that Campion never fully reveals in her deft work.
Cumberbatch, Schold and Collette, who won an Oscar for her role in “United 93,” play it so well that a viewer forgets at times that this is supposed to be a movie. You sense there must be something afoot but you just know that those players in the film’s perversely intimate orbit are more than capable of handling it. The mysteries of the narrative are found in its everyday coherence and characters’ close attention to detail. A remarkable supporting cast completes the picture: David Wenham, Robin Wright, Anna Paquin, Robbie Coltrane, Emily Watson, Rupert Friend, Regina King, Jordan Hoffman and Cate Blanchett all have roles to play. Several are regular actors who land here and never let go.
The Mad Hard Realist Theater Collective hosted this film festival performance and delivers a remarkable conclusion to 2019.