Run time: 127 mins
Writer-director Jane Campion masterfully combines spectacular landscapes with complex internal journeys in this provocative Western.
Salty cowboy Phil (Cumberbatch) runs a cattle ranch with his soft-spoken brother George (Plemons), who marries widowed hotelier Rose (Dunst) and brings her to live in their ranchhouse. Phil’s relentless teasing and aggressions drive Rose to drink and when her teen son Peter arrives for the summer she worries for his safety, especially since Phil relentlessly taunts him over his wispy appearance and artful demeanour. Initially leery, Peter is drawn in as Phil teaches him horse-riding and other skills. Meanwhile, a secret very close to Phil’s chest is wrestling to come out.
Cumberbatch is magnetic as someone who enjoys stirring trouble yet it works wonderfully well to see him repeatedly surprised by Peter, played brilliantly by Kodi Smit-McPhee as a curious young man who isn’t as fragile as he seems. Dunst and Plemons are also excellent in textured roles as people who prefer to remain quietly in the margins. Their romance gives the film a sweet centre, adding context to Phil’s and Peter’s odysseys. Campion weaves these story strands together beautifully, never overtly commenting on the underlying themes in the subtext. (Chris Coetsee)