‘The Power of the Dog’ Review: Unjust Hype for a Lengthy Film

Throughout all the articles, featurettes, interviews, and significant publicity, it still felt like something was missing. For everything that was pushed on the film, The Power of the Dog, it failed to impress me in the same fashion.

The film presents itself as a slow-burn style western, that eventually comes around for the finale, but the keyword in “slow-burn” is slow. The film drags the entirety of its 125-minute runtime and there’s not much for the audience to look for.

From the get-go, the film’s description is off. “A domineering but charismatic rancher wages a war of intimidation” is a far cry from the arrogant, toxic cowboy presented to us onscreen. So even after reading a not-so captivating description, you decide to give this a try anyway. You’ll hear a voiceover to start the film with a few credits and an image before the film actually begins. The main image to remember is “Montana 1925”, which means the setting is located in Montana in the year 1925 (remember that). Fast-forward about 20 minutes into the movie, there’s a scene where all the ranchers are at a house being hosted by Rose (Kirsten Dunst). Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), being the symbol of hyper male toxicity, decides to bully her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for no other reason than the fact he’s artistic (he made paper flowers to set on the dining tables since his mother was a florist). Pan the table full of uncharismatic men laughing at the toxic rancher and (drumroll)… One of them is black. A black rancher? With about 10 white guys? Laughing at bullying? In 1925?

THE POWER OF THE DOG (L to R): BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK, JESSE PLEMONS as GEORGE BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

As far as acting? Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job portraying an angry, jealous, toxic rancher. But the film relies too heavily on name-brand actors and one-sided performances.

The Book of Psalms is going to be talked about because of the film, seeing as the title originated there. The verse reads, “Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs”. Here, King David is crying out to God to save him from peril. He continues, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him!” In this story, based on Thomas Savage’s novel, you could say Phil is the one shouting out to the Lord to save him from the torment surrounding him.

So there’s nuanced creativity sprinkled about like sprinkles on a chocolate-covered donut, but imagine the donut being served to you is three days old.

The Power of the Dog gets a 5.5 out of 10. It’s too long and doesn’t live up to the hype. This film reminds me of the many that were slammed by critics but audiences loved and vice versa, my favorite being 300. It was trashed for weeks before it debuted and it turned out to be a gamechanger. People loved it. I feel the exact opposite with this film. How this has such a high score on Rotten Tomatoes, yet, online audiences are averaging 2.5 stars out of 5, I’ll never know. But I do know this: Hollywood likes Jane Campion and loves the name Cumberbatch.

The Power of the Dog is available to stream now on Netflix

-Jon Jones

Photos: Courtesy of Netflix

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