dir: Jane Campion
What a film. What a strange, alluring film.
I guarantee you’ve seen no film like it this year, or pretty much any year.
Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cruel piece of shit. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) is not a cruel piece of shit, but he does put up with a fair amount of abuse. They run a cattle ranch somewhere in Montana (it’s really the south east coast Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island, but, the magic of movies), and they are quite successful at it.
Phil rules the men that work for him with an iron fist, disdaining anything that might be delicate or gentle. He sees some flowers, constructed from paper, and it fills him with loathing and contempt, which he directs at the maker of said flowers, being Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
This isn’t, not that his cruelties would be any more justifiable if it were, frontier times or Civil War times or anything, it’s like 1925. The Roaring 20s. What even is this cowboy bullshit when there’s cars and trucks and stuff on the roads?
Phil don’t care. Everything that ever mattered he learned from Bronco Henry, a man we never get to meet, but who looms over Phil’s consciousness all of the time.
George, the other brother, is not like Phil. He doesn’t do the grunt work on the ranch with the grunts in their employ. He dresses fancy, waxes his moustache and schmoozes with, I dunno, governors and mayors and the like. When he sees a woman like the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), or her son Peter, he isn’t filled with an inexplicable rage. Instead he sees some gentle folk who he could have a life with, much to Phil’s disgust.
Every review you might read, including this one here, keep talking about what a cruel sonofabitch Phil is, but none of the reviews can really capture the extent of it, despite the fact that his cruelty is not like, I dunno, Hannibal Lecter or anything. He never physically threatens her, and rarely if ever speaks to her. But he finds his ways, he does, of making her feel worthless.