On a lonely barn wall in The Power of the Dog, there hangs a saddle with the name “Bronco Henry” etched into it. Though unimposing on its own, the artifact ends up being the thread that ties the film together. Indeed, for our reclusive and thorny cattle-farmer protagonist, Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), a saddle isn’t just a saddle. Rather, it’s a reminder of the dogma of rugged masculinity instilled in him by his predecessor, the mythic bronco himself. It represents a set of values Phil attempts to uphold in a world where this kind of manliness is rapidly becoming unnecessary and even passé as the excess and extravagance of the Roaring ‘20s take over—and one he desperately attempts to bolster in order to keep the cowboy lifestyle alive after he’s gone.
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