The editors note: Debuting series “Read the script” from Deadline and honors the scripts of films that will be a factor in this year’s race for awards.
A 1967 novel by Thomas Savage The power of the dog some time leaked to the back of the brain by director Jane Campion, formerly an Oscar winner for writing a screenplay for Piano. Eventually, she felt the need to adapt it for the screen.
“I was interested in it for many reasons: I couldn’t guess what was going to happen, it was incredibly detailed, and I felt like the person who was writing the story went through that experience,” Campion says. “It’s not just a cowboy story from life on a 1925 ranch. It’s a past experience, and I think it made me feel genuinely confident in the story. I liked how deeply he explores masculinity, as well as the fact that it’s also about hidden love. ”
In the center of The power of the dog is Montana ranch owner Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the film), a charismatic but steadfastly tough figure who dominates his hands on the ranch. When his fragile brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries, Phil aligns his brutal bullying on his wife George Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her sensitive son Peter (Cody Smith-McPhee). But Phil’s toxic flurry masks a painful internal struggle that, once uncovered, could be his doom.
“He is so difficult and cruel, but no matter how evil and bad he is, he also suffers from a lonely lover who retains feelings from a long time ago,” says Campion. “He is in the impossible situation of being an alpha male who is homophobic as well as homosexual. It is incredibly painful and difficult. I found Phil moving, and I found the mysterious relationship between him and the boy fascinating and fun. ”
“I saw the potential as material for Jane,” said producer Tanya Segatchyan, often a Campion employee. “It’s a rich psychodrama with unusual roles of central characters, an incredible cinematic landscape and a cooling and amazing finale that really works.”
“Our approach to adaptation was to boldly finish the book to make it tougher and more appealing to the film, honoring Thomas Savage’s vision, of course,” Segatchyan says. “Jane has an instinct to find hidden notes and know how to enhance sensuality. One of her true gifts is to make invisible emotions visible. We clearly identified themes and emotional gaps to explore more deeply, and Jane created scenes only partially described in the book in visual language. Jane is a master at emphasizing desire and reviving it in a cinematic style. ”
In an attempt to capture as much of the flavor and spirit of Savage’s work, Campion of New Zealand raided Montana to get a deeper look at the region. While there, she visited the Savage family ranch and absorbed as much detail as possible about the life and knowledge of the author from his descendants, further explaining her view of the source material.
She also consulted with writer Annie Prue, the author of the story Tea Mountain and wrote an afterword to the 2001 edition of Savage’s book, which discusses the iconography of the American West and Savage’s strongly masculine history from a writer’s perspective.
“I really appreciate other people’s work, and I wanted to honor Thomas Savage with this film,” says Campion. “When I read a book like this, I don’t treat the film adaptation easily. I want it to be as good as possible. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but I like to do everything very carefully! “
Click below to read the snapshot script from Netflix that released The dog in theaters around Thanksgiving and launched it on a streaming site on December 1st. It was one of the busiest films this season since its debut at the Venice Film Festival, where Campion won the Best Director award. It was named AFI one of the films of the year among many critics’ awards and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama. He has 10 Critics’ Choice nominations, as well as numerous Cumberbatch, Dunst and Smith-McPhee acting nominations, as well as directorial and screenwriting awards for Champion (although, in particular, the screenplay is not eligible for a WGA award).