Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog.Psalms 20:22
Surely under the dust of the old North American west many stories remain buried. Much has changed since the era of archetypal Westerns. The genre has found life again and again thanks to directors who take risks and take it down unexplored paths. Veteran director Jane Campion joins that list and with The Power of the Dog (2021) she leaves us a film that breaks some molds and delves into the psychological profile of the characters to compose from the intimate. The actions are born from the wishes of the characters, everything revolves around their deepest desires and what happens in the foreground always has a more complex background.
With the character of Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) Campion dismantles the figure of the American cowboy. In the way and proceeding Phil appears to be the same as always, the rudeness marks his step and from the look he instills terror. Even his brother George (Jesse Plemons) gives him his space and proceeds cautiously. The Burbanks are in a privileged position and their ranch generates more than enough to live with plenty of comfort. The calm that comes with predictability is shattered when George meets Rose Gordon (Kristen Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The script written by Jane Campion herself is based on the novel by Thomas Savage and finds in these four characters the perfect support to develop a solid story that runs smoothly.
The Power of the Dog
The grandiloquence of the landscapes contrasts with the sobriety of the dialogues and the encounters of the characters. The immensity of that land that contains men can only be minimized when we are faced with the infinity of the human soul. The duel between that powerful Phil and shy Peter escalates with the same force that those mountains dominate the ground where they pass. Phil’s past is a heavy burden and Peter shows that he can risk everything to get what he wants. The Power of the Dog grows with every minute and even when it leaves crumbs along the way that allow us to anticipate certain solutions, the visual power with which they are presented, and the interpretive force make the speech be delivered effectively.
Ari Wegner’s (Lady Macbeth, Stray) cinematography plays a pivotal role, and her camera paints a perfect setting for Campion’s characters to thrive. What is more obvious is when the story allows it to embrace the entire width of those fields, but the most memorable moments come with the close-ups and with the camera leaving the viewer to investigate the darkest desires that arise from the characters. The Power of the Dog takes refuge in the character of Phil Burbank, but it is in that Peter Gordon that the true power is found that hits when we least expect it.