Director Jane Campion’s native New Zealand stands in for Montana in this, sure to be Oscar Nominated film. The landscape is as much a character as any of the actors and looks stunningly beautiful in HDR. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play brothers Phil and George. George marries Rose, Kirsten Dunst, who brings her son, Peter, Kodi Smith-McPhee, along with her to Phil and George’s ranch.
The film is set in 1925 and George and Phil are trying to head in opposite directions in history. Phil, Cumberbatch, is trying to hold onto the old ways of ranching, despite a Yale education in the classics. We meet George, Plemons, in a bathtub, a modern convenience. On the cattle drive, Phil is in his traditional western wear, while George is in a more modern sleek three-piece suit.
Cumberbatch is getting Oscar buzz for his performance, and it is well deserved. He is keenly aware of what is going on around him and reads people with surgical-like precision knowing just how to hurt them. He despises Rose and resents George for bringing her to their home. The film wades shin-deep into a psychological thriller and puts you on edge as he torments Rose with his very presence. This is taken to another level when Peter returns from school and George takes him under his wing, but only after demeaning him for his level of femininity that is always on display.
The plot slowly builds, the pace is fast enough to sense the rising conflict, but you know it will take a long time to get to the peak. You are forced to sit with what happens on-screen as long lingering landscape shots are used to pause after major plot points. Tension is built with claustrophobic scenes using the limited structures on the ranch in wide-open cattle country. The film holds back enough information for you to be surprised while not holding back too much to make you feel duped. Little hints are sprinkled throughout that only reveal themselves upon finishing the film or with a second viewing.
This may be the best film of the year. The acting performances are stellar all around including the Montana landscape. The plot is complex but easy enough to follow. Small detours keep the film interesting and multiple aspects are left open-ended for the viewer to make their own conclusions. This film is meant to stir discussion after viewing. Since this is a Netflix original you can watch it at your leisure and there are five chapters to break it up. Watch it on the best screen you have that can show off HDR content the way it should be.