STREAMING SATURDAY: The Power of the Dog

I finally got around to seeing The Power of the Dog, which is streaming on Netflix. It was one of those films that seemed destined to win an Oscar and when it didn’t, I got curious. HBO Max’s Dune (Part 1) won most of the awards that Dog was expected to, and after having seen this film I now know why.

Spoiler alert from here on

I could probably tell you what I didn’t like about this film without spoiling it for you, but it’s going to be much easier to just spoil the film for you. I suspect that if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably seen the film anyway but if you haven’t, consider yourself warned.

A few comments up front

Before I start, here’s a quick bit of content to give you one more chance to consider clicking away if you really don’t want to know the mysteries of this film.

This film does have a dog in it for a few scenes, but it’s not about a dog. It’s about people, and the dog doesn’t enter into it. The title refers to a bible verse, one many people aren’t likely to know.

Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog.

Psalm 22:20

The film also says up front that there’s nudity and a bit of sexuality. There is, but for you horndogs out there, I’ll simply say that it’s all male nudity. Sorry to break it to you.

Why I didn’t terribly care for this film

This is not a bad film. It’s very well acted and its sparseness gives you plenty of time to take in what’s going on. My problems with the film come from a few general areas. Since it is such a slow film (which is fine by me) I had plenty of time to observe the little things which didn’t really work.

New Zealand is not Montana

The film takes place in Montana. In my view, it never looks like Montana, not for one moment. I wasn’t at all surprised to find it was shot in New Zealand. Montana is a ruggedly beautiful place, even when it’s barren, and this didn’t look a bit like that. This was made worse by the filmmakers’ choice to give the film a brownish-yellow tint. It’s so easy to change the overall color of a film now that filmmakers just can’t help it. I would have much rather that this film show the blue, blue skies of Montana and I think the natural beauty of the landscape would have been a good contrast for the nastiness of the dialogue.

Casting Benedict Cumberbatch is a bit too “on-the-nose”

Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent actor, but he’s played arrogant before. He’s also played a closeted gay man before. Casting him in the role of a grizzled, toxic cowboy makes no sense unless it turns out that he’s also a closeted homosexual. Therefore, the big reveal of the middle of the movie isn’t a surprise at all. Honestly, it would have been a much bigger surprise if Cumberbatch was just a jerk for no reason.

Speaking of which…

I have to admit I haven’t read the 1967 book on which this film is based. But I do know that having a gay cowboy was probably a much bigger deal then. I also suspect that the book fills in a lot of the missing pieces about what the characters are going through. Cumberbatch’s character, Phil, goes from taunting his nephew mercilessly to mentoring him in the space of 5 minutes, and this comes after the nephew discovers the truth about Phil. I kept waiting for Phil to take swift vengeance on the Peter, the nephew, and it never happened. In fact, the most surprising reveal at all was that Phil never really acted on any of his threats. You would think that at some point, he would have been exposed as “all talk no action” because that’s exactly what he was.

Because I could see what they tried to do…

It was very obvious where the film was going and that made the symbolism seem just too easy. Phil puts his finger in the center of a paper flower. Phil drives a wooden stake into the ground, hard. Peter’s touch is a show of concern, but it also probably cost Phil his life. It was all laid out in front of me and because I felt no real tension here, it just seemed like it was pandering.

Other people really liked this film

If you want to know what a professional movie critic thought, read this review. I disagree with it, but I respect the opinion. To me, this film wasted the enviable talents of its actors with a plot that seemed all too obvious, cinematography that was way off base, and a surprise reveal that simply wasn’t.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.