Jane Campion’s latest film, the sweeping, uneasy psychological Western “Power of the Dog” hits Netflix Wednesday, an early holiday treat for cinephiles. “Power of the Dog” cements Campion’s status as one of our finest master filmmakers, though her body of work proves that designation was never in question.
“Power of the Dog,” for which Campion won the Silver Lion prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival, is adapted from the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as mysterious Montana rancher Phil Burbank, a mercurial figure who affects an outsize influence on the lives of his brother and sister-in-law (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) while forging a strange connection with his step-nephew (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Campion tells this story in glances, gesture and song, crafting a carefully studied and breathless mystery, holding the audience in her controlled grasp at every moment. It’s an astonishing achievement anchored by virtuosic performances from Cumberbatch and Dunst, especially.
Wisely, Netflix also currently made available to stream three more of Campion’s best, and best-known films, for anyone who might want to seek out more of her work after (or before) watching “Power of the Dog.” Don’t hesitate to watch “The Piano,” for which Campion was the first female filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993, for this stunning historical romantic drama starring Holly Hunter, Sam Neill, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin, set in Campion’s native New Zealand. Campion also won the Oscar for the screenplay of “The Piano,” with Hunter and Paquin winning Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Also on Netflix, Campion’s 2003 erotic thriller “In the Cut,” starring Meg Ryan playing against type, opposite Mark Ruffalo as a detective investigating a brutal murder. For something gentler, Campion’s 2009 film “Bright Star,” starring Ben Whishaw as the poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish as his lover Fanny Brawne, is a gorgeous swoon of pure cinema.
Campion was Emmy-nominated for directing the series “Top of the Lake” starring Elisabeth Moss, who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in the role of Detective Robin Griffin investigating the disappearance of a young girl. Both “Top of the Lake” Season 1 and the second season “Top of the Lake: China Girl” are streaming on Hulu.
If you’d like to go back all the way to the beginning of Campion’s remarkable career, her directorial debut, the 1989 film, “Sweetie,” about a dysfunctional Australian family, is streaming on HBO Max.