With “The Power of the Dog”, Jane Campion signs a predictable western on the virile universe of a cowboy

The long-awaited latest Jane Campion film has arrived: The Power of the Dog (“The Power of the Dog”), Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, in July, is broadcast exclusively on Netflix, from Wednesday 1er December. New Zealand director and first woman to receive the Palme d’Or with The Piano Lesson (1993) – tied with Goodbye my concubine, of Chinese Chen Kaige -, Jane Campion then found success with the series Top of the Lake (2013 and 2017), broadcast on Arte.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage (Belfond, 1967), The Power of the Dog puts us in an embarrassment from the first minutes, as its program is announced heavily, that is to say the application of toxic masculinity to the genre of the western, all the characters existing only in relation to this axiom, in an arrangement of contrary personalities (the hard and the nice, the strong and fragile woman at the same time, etc.).

Looks heavy with innuendo

In the Montana Valley, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a great landowner who commands respect. Piercing gaze, push-yourself-out-of-there-that-I-put-me-step approach, Phil only addresses men, real people, and despises others. He is undoubtedly an exception for his younger brother, George (Jesse Plemons), with whom he lives, a gentle and sensitive man, with a round and attractive face.

Read the portrait (2014): Jane Campion, complex heroine

But the relationship between the two men cracks when George begins to be consumed with love for the owner of the local restaurant, porcelain beauty who responds to the first name of Rose (Kirsten Dunst). Rose lives alone with her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a delicate and lonely boy who spends time preparing elegant table settings (beware, he’s not like other boys). At this stage of the film, we can already see how the mechanics of the scenario will unfold. All you have to do is let yourself be guided by the incendiary looks and heavy innuendo that Phil launches towards the young “colt”: Peter annoys him as much as he unsettles him. Is Phil really that virile man he constantly overplayed?

Read also New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion awarded the Lumière 2021 prize

Anxiety cohabitation

The opening scene says it all: Phil and his men are coming to have lunch in Rose’s restaurant. The males at the table are not long in discovering the slender figure of Peter, and Phil immediately draws all his gall, while, in the back kitchen, Rose suffers in silence. Touched by the grace and vulnerability of this woman, George will come to visit her several times and marry her. Episode 2 begins, the anxiety-provoking cohabitation between the new husbands, the delicate boy, and Phil.

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