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Affable Benedict Cumberbatch Is an Awesome Cowboy Monster

Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as George Burbank in "The Power Of The Dog."
Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as George Burbank in “The Power Of The Dog.” Kirst Griffin/Netflix

It’s the holidays. That means Oscar season, and Benedict Cumberbatch has just thrown his Stetson into the ring. 

Appearing last week, the preview for The Power of the Dog presents an awesome, sprawling early twentieth-century Montana that’s juxtaposes the claustrophobic life inherent in tight quarters with the few settlers on the range.

The Western psychodrama stars Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a cowboy who at once lusts after and disapproves of his brother George’s (Jesse Plemons) wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst). In the middle of this triangle is her soft-mannered son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who Phil sets about rousting, supposedly attempting to school the boy in the cowboy way, but bad ends portend for each character in the conniving cowboy’s orbit.   

“Cumberbatch is astounding in the role, as the actor knots his default sarcasm into a lasso of constricted menace,” David Ehrlic of IndieWire wrote. “The unforgettable performance that results — a definitive career-best — is at once both terrifying and terrified.”

To play this controlling monster, Cumberbatch was required to undertake a part’s physicality like he has never done before. The British actor known for cerebral, refined urban characters learned to ride, roll cigarettes with one hand, and work with animals (including how to castrate a bull) on the South Island, New Zealand set in order to embody Phil’s primitive domineering nature. The full-bodied experience has led to inspired reviews and early Oscar talk for Cumberbatch’s acting.

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It’s everyone in Power of the Dog, however, who must attempt to squeeze into roles that aligns with the rough life in this harsh landscape. And everyone seems to suffer for it. Plemons-as-George struggles to maintain the role of the good man and stand-up younger brother to the older, domineering Phil. Rose falls into a silent alcoholism while attempting to maintain faith with her husband and protection for her son. And Peter looks to overcome his effete manner by learning the cowboy way from Phil, who holds maybe more secrets under his seething exterior than everyone combined. 

The “mesmerizing,” “astonishing,” “masterpiece” of a film made its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 2, where Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Direction. Campion is no stranger to awards as she was the first woman to take home top prize at Cannes for The Piano in 1993. The Power of the Dog is her first film in a dozen years, and her first time directing a male protagonist and a complex, commanding one at that.

“Sort of a lonesome place out here, Pete … unless you get in the swing of things,” Cumberbatch-as-Phil drawls. 

The Power of the Dog will be in select theaters Nov. 17 and on streaming on Netflix Dec. 1. Check out the trailer below.

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