Starring in “The Power of the Dog” | Comments

The power of the dog
Rhythm Rating: A
Rated R for brief sexual content/full nudity.

All westerns are fantasies. At first they were an expression of the dominant ideal that the American frontier was land ready for the taking and that the indigenous peoples who rose up against this colonial invasion were such unsophisticated primitives that they did not managed to step aside, subjugate themselves and happily allow the rape of their land, resources and cultures.

Movies embraced that because that’s what audiences wanted to see. They wanted their fantasies bolstered by brave, square-jawed cowboys carrying six-guns, men and women who knew their place. But, then as now, we know more about human nature and for every profitable stereotype and illusion, there is a reality with more colors than a rainbow.

In Jane Campion’s elegiac western, “The Power of the Dog,” there are many layers to the characters defined by a changing west. Set in 1925 Montana on a large ranch run by brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), the story takes its time to unfold so we can glean intricacies that go beyond their external contrasts.

Phil is skinny, constantly dirty, tough as nails, and rude in language and demeanor while George is slightly chubby, refined, polite, and intellectual, but they respect each other as boys who have grown up to be very different men.

Their world changes when the cowherds arrive in the small town of Beech, where they stop for dinner at a small cafe run by Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst, who in real life is married to Plemons) and her dainty son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). During dinner, Phil throws his weight and insults the other patrons, makes fun of Peter, and disrespects Rose’s hospitality. This greatly offends George who returns to apologize and strike up a sweet romance with her.

Campion uses a deft brush to paint the colors of what eventually evolves from those initial scenes, finding a rare visual interpretation of novelist Thomas Savage’s landscape, inserting New Zealand’s wilderness for the real Montana, director of photography Ari Wegner deliberately avoids the harsh artifice of classic Western film lighting, characterized by overly bright fill light even in outdoor shots, Here scenes appear to use natural light and deep shadows to break through cinematic conventions.

From the start, Campion also paints this film with the not-too-subtle overtones of repressed homosexuality, specifically targeting Phil, the man’s man, as he attempts to come to terms with his psychological confusion caused by the appearance of Peter in his family circle after Rose and George marry and move into the farm. One could imagine the clichéd anti-gay rage Phil might display, especially among his cowherds who react to everything by his example. But, as noted above, we now know more about human nature and the different ways people may have acted toward each other, even in 1925 Montana.

Much has been written about actor Sam Elliott’s comments regarding the counter-intuitive approach the masterful Campion used to tell this story, particularly regarding the gay subtext. More surprising to this writer however was the backlash against Elliott’s opinion, which he certainly welcomes. The west and its inhabitants have never been locked in aspic, and there are certainly a wide variety of ways to interpret all of this in art. Remembering that and all the precedence in world cinema to reinterpret established genres might do well to settle that dust.

This film shows that even today there are ways to surprise and intrigue audiences by showing a different side, colors one might not have used, and performance nuances that help people to better understand others.

‘The Power of the Dog’ was nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Cumberbatch. It is now screened on the Netflix subscription streaming service.

Now playing at Mitchell Storyteller Cinema 7 Theaters

Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania
Not previewed
Storyteller Cinemas
Rated PG for action and crude humor, including cartoon nudity.

When Van Helsing’s mysterious invention, the “Monsterfication Ray”, goes haywire, Drac and his monster buddies are all turned into humans, and Johnny becomes a monster.

In their mismatched new bodies, Drac, stripped of his powers, and an exuberant, monster-loving Johnny must team up and race across the world to find a cure before it’s too late and before they don’t drive themselves crazy. With the help of Mavis and the hilarious human Drac Pack, the heat is on to find a way to change back before their transformations become permanent.

Directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska, this Amazon Original animated film features the voice talents of Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade and Keegan-Michael Key. —Sony Pictures

This film is screening at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Cinemas, 110 Old Talpa Cañon Road in Taos. For tickets, schedules and additional information, visit or call (575) 751-4245.

Big Screen Movies, TCA

drive my car
Big screen movies

Two years after the unexpected death of his wife, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a renowned actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya” at a theater festival in Hiroshima. There he meets Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), a taciturn young woman commissioned by the festival to drive him around in her beloved red Saab 900.

As the production premiere approaches, tensions rise among the cast and crew, especially between Yusuke and Koshi Takatsuki, a handsome TV star who shares an unwanted bond with Yusuke’s late wife. Forced to confront painful truths lifted from his past, Yusuke begins – with the help of his driver – to confront the haunting mysteries his wife left behind. —

Directed by Ryûsuki Hamaguchi, this Japanese-language film with English subtitles was nominated for four Oscars. It’s screening on Wednesday (March 16) at 7 p.m.

Screenings take place at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets, health restrictions and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit

Alfonso E. Cramer