Netflix at the London Film Festival has certainly been trying to reinvigorate the Western genre. Firstly, they opened up the Festival with The Harder They Fall, an action-packed and electric but flawed Western that evoked Clint Eastwood’s era’s old squinting Spaghetti Westerns with a slightly modern sense of humour. Unfortunately, their next Western reminds us of the other more tedious and slow side of the genre.
The Power Of The Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch alongside real-life husband and wife portraying a couple in the film, Jesse Plemmons and Kirsten Dunst. Cumberbatch and Plemmons are brothers who run a ranch in the Montana valley while Dunst runs a restaurant where the brothers eat. Plemmons becomes enamoured with her, and the rest of the film follows their growing romance and Cumberbatch’s jealousy.
The film starts reasonably strong with a dirt-converted Benedict Cumberbatch playing uncharacteristically mean and a pretty strong soundtrack. Sadly though, it never really improves from this point and only proceeds to descend into a painfully slow slog of a western with a fairly paper-thin plot. Plus, the soundtrack becomes very repetitive and dull, much like the rest of the film.
What can be said in praise of The Power Of The Dog is Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance. Jane Campion at least managed to get a good performance out of him, though his character isn’t brilliantly written, and his motivations seem poorly thought out. Jesse Plemmons and Kirsten Dunst both play ultimately to type and do nothing exceptional at all. The fact that they’re married in real life somehow makes their romance in this film seem forced.
Kodi Smit-McPhee makes a return to film here, but ultimately his character isn’t fascinating and seems to be set up as one thing, then ends up being another as the story goes on. Another young actor present here is Thomasin Mackenzie, who’s given very little to do, which comes as a surprise seeing as though she’s now been the lead to at least two films to date.
The Power Of The Dog is split into five parts, indicated by Roman numerals appearing every 20-40 minutes. There is no purpose for this; the story isn’t very episodic and just feels like one big long story rather than five parts. Traditionally, when editors do this, it’s to illustrate the three acts of the film, to make it feel more like a play. However, once the “IV” appears on the screen, you’re left in a void of mystery, unaware of just how long you’re going to have to sit through this.
The Power Of The Dog is a very slow and tedious western. When important events do eventually happen, they tend to occur off-screen. None of the characters are engaging or intriguing. Benedict Cumberbatch does his very best to do something with the material he’s been given, but even this thespian isn’t enough to make this film any more entertaining. If more Westerns like this get made, then the genre definitely won’t be making the explosive comeback that fans of The Harder They Fall would be hoping for.
The Power Of The Dog is playing at BFI London Film Festival 6-17 October and on Netflix from November 19