MOVIE REVIEWNICK BROOK
Jane Campion’s recent, award› reaping western is named for Psalm 22:20 — ‘‘Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.’’
In this respect the power is that of Benedict Cumberbatch’s unhappy, non›straight›shooting, 1902 Montana cowboy Phil Burbank, who systematically hounds his brother’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst).
A second, subtler meaning is the power of the under›dog, as Rose’s gentle, queer son Peter perceives the deliverance his darling mother needs.
Thus, the open effeminacy of non›closeted Peter is his secret strength, as the men who see it assume he is weak and harmless
— despite dark evidence of how dangerous he might be.
Indeed, rugged, closeted, hypermasculine Phil softens to assume a patronising superiority over Peter, as he is presented — along with the viewer — with illusions of romance and redemption.
The Power of the Dog is potent and haunting but not flawless.
The bare, bleak portrayal of the Burbank homestead may imply the director’s opinion of her patriarchal world but it seems more like scant regard for set›building, and American Indians are included to dictate the viewer’s allegiance for the finale in a scene that feels contrived and tokenist.
Firearms are completely absent from this western — a statement in itself — and as Campion has welcomed the publicity her film’s current political correctness has raised, in 2022 it’s difficult to gauge how much of The Power of the Dog’s viral success is owed to its usefulness to the many movements touting ‘‘toxic masculinity’’ as the source of all ills.
While one wonders how a film by a male director depicting toxic feminity might be received, perhaps future audiences in a less politically charged era will be able to appreciate The Power of the Dog just as the refreshingly unusual and finely crafted psychological thriller it really is at its heart.