Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

FILM REVIEW: Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog

Posted by Larry Gleeson

THE POWER OF THE DOG: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. (Photo credit: KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021)

 

Jane Campion’s latest work, The Power of the Dog, screened as part of a Red Carpet Premiere at the historic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood California, during the American Film Institute’s  AFI FEST 2021, on Thursday, November 11th. Campion is a New Zealand screenwriter, producer, and director. She is the second of seven women ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and the first female filmmaker to receive the Palme d’Or; both of these achievements came for The Piano (1993).

 

The Power of the Dog,  written and directed by Campion, is set in 1925 Montana and circles around two well-off brothers who own an influential ranching operation. The Burbank brothers, played by Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch, come across as polar opposites. Phil Burbank, played by Cumberbatch, is an infamous Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University who prefers the daily grind of working the ranch with the hired hands. Cumberbatch brings a deep dark presence to the character in what might be his best performance to date. Plemmons plays Gordon Burbank,  the slower, mild-mannered younger brother, embodying a ranch gentleman with grace and style. Kirsten Dunst portrays Rose Gordon, a compelling love interest as a saloon-style restaurant owner who serves dinners to the locals with her son, Peter, portrayed by Kodi Smith-McPhee in a breakout performance.

While The Power of the Dog is set in Montana, the actual film location is New Zealand – adding a surreal quality. And, Campion’s writing matches it full force. The twists and turns in the dramatic, psychological, roller-coaster ride narrative combined with Cumberbatch’s powerful, dark character portrayal set the audience on the edge of their seats and their eyes fixed on the big screen. Undoubtedly, Campion is in the mix for her second Oscar for screenwriting and appears to be in the mix for a directorial nod as well.

 

Q & A, on November 11th, 2021, following the screening of The Power of the Dog, inside Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

 

Following the screening, a fun-filled Q & A unfolded as the film’s actors, editor, cinematographer, and director sparred, cajoled, and informed under the watchful eye of moderator Hahn as she effectively marshaled the energies of The Power of the Dog conversation. The Power of the Dog, set for a December 1st, 2021, release date,  is a magnificent and majestic work tantalizing and titillating – a bonafide Oscar contender for now – in multiple categories! Highly recommended. One of the year’s best films!

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Gordon in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, set for a December 1st, 2021 release. (Photo Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021 Cross City Films Limited/Courtesy of Netflix)

Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies!

FILM REVIEW: Dominic Cooke’s IronBark starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another quality performance as UK businessman, Greville Wynne, turned Cold War secret agent in the political thriller Ironbark from Director Dominic Cooke. Wynne leads a relatively comfortable life with a warm and proper wife, Sheila, portrayed by the sugary Jessie Buckley. The chemistry between the two is natural and realistic as their relationship bends to its breaking point as Greville cannot intimately share his newly enacted double life try as he may.

The film, a period piece, opens with a harsh speech being delivered by the former Soviet Union premier, Nikita Kruschev, menacingly threatening to wipe the United States from the face of the earth. The clip appears to be an archival newsreel and provides an eery authenticity to what Ironbark undertakes. A decorated Russian Army Officer, portrayed by Merab Ninidze in a tour-de-force performance, has seen enough and reaches out to the West to stop the madman Kruschev from destroying civilization as it existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

The “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Rachel Brosnahan, turns in a surprisingly adept performance as CIA official Emily Donovan, while Angus Wright convincingly portrays British intelligence agent Dickie Franks. The two intelligence officers recruit Greville Wynne to be a courier of secret documents out of Russia. What would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis is exposed as Wynne couriers roughly 500 documents during the top-secret intel operation. Unfortunately, all does not go as planned when the stakes are raised. Yet, what is revealed catapults the narrative into an unflinchingly suspenseful political drama.

At its best, Ironbark delivers an insightful truth in matters of the heart during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, formally known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with grace and efficiency from start to finish. In the Q & A following the film’s screening at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Director Cooke confessed to the amount of thought and visualization exercised before executing the film’s scene takes – no more than 2-3 takes.

From a directorial standpoint, a well-designed shot list is only a part of executing a highly polished take. The starring cast of Cumberbatch, Brosnahan, Buckley, Ninidze, Wright as well as Kirill Pirogov (Oleg Gribanov) was magnificent. The cinematography from the Director of Photography, Sean Bobbitt was exquisite. And the production design, costuming and sound had a considerable artistic flair. Filming locations in both London and Prague rounded out a highly believable and quite authentic period piece. Granted a few moments seem to stagnate. Yet, the contrived pauses allowed for moments of comedic relief (primarily in the idiosyncrasies of the film’s protagonist Wynne. Ultimately these moments served contrast in juxtaposition to the Gulag scenes. In my opinion, this speaks highly of Cooke’s mastering the medium for the digestive machinations of a pro-Western audience.

Not surprisingly, as numerous deals are inked during Sundance, Ironbark was snatched up by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, officially on January 27th, 2020, three days after its premiere. Originally scheduled for a March-April release, Ironbark is now in a TBA (To Be Announced) status for release. Stay tuned as this was one of the best audience films of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival! Highly recommended.

Dominic Cooke Sundance 2020
Ironbark Director Dominic Cooke responds to the audience following the premiere of his film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on January 24th, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Sundance.org)
IRONBARK Sundance cast
Left to right; Merab Ninidze, Dominic Cooke and Rachel Brosnahan display their Ironbark premiere tickets, January 24th, 2020, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Sundance.org)