The Power of the Dog was released to a less-than-enthusiastic response.

The movie cost somewhere between $35 and $39 million to make.

But, it only earned a little over $200,000 at the box office. Sure, this could be partially due to the fact that it was released simultaneously on Netflix. But, it could also be due to the fact that the movie was trite, unengaging, and boring as hell.

Like watching paint dry

The movie takes about an hour for anything to actually happen, as if the filmmakers were relying on beautiful shots of a New Zealand mountain range posing as Montana landscape to hold a moviegoer’s attention. But by the time you finally get into the meat of the nut, you realize that it’s a story that you’ve seen before in many other movies. And, if you’re going to be doing something that’s been done before, you’d better make sure to do it better, or at least as well as, previous movies that tackled the subject matter.

The casting made matters worse

Cowboys and ranchers are very American, ingrained in the roots of our current culture. It’s very difficult for non-Americans to play these characters; not impossible, but certainly a challenge. There’s a certain specificity to the rough-and-tumble, gritty nature to the essence of these characters that’s difficult to master if you weren’t raised with that culture surrounding you.

Now, I like Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor. I think he’s very talented. But, his portrayal of a rancher in this movie was way off the mark. The rough-and-tumble grit he tried to adopt ended up making him just look like an asshole. His standard American accent was not authentic to Montana ranchers during that time period. His posture was straight, shoulders elegantly thrown back, of someone born into privilege. And, sorry, but his bull castration scene did not bring legitimacy to his performance. I understand the symbolism of it, but it was just gross and wholly unnecessary.

Kirsten Dunst’s character was weak, frail, and completely unmotivated, a far cry from the strong female lead you’d expect from a progressive movie. Kodi Smit-McPhee has probably the most interesting character in the whole movie, but he still seemed as dull as the slow, melodramatic landscape shots littered throughout the film (possibly due to what the director told him to do). Jesse Plemmons did what he could with what little he had, and probably gave the best performance in the movie, but he had the least amount of screen time, so what did it even matter?

I mean, they tried… I guess?

All in all, it was a waste of time. It was so long and so boring that I didn’t care about the characters at all. I kept watching, thinking that something would happen, but the little story it had was buried under boring landscape shots and mediocre acting. In my mind, there was no way they’d get any notice. No award nominations, and that the movie would fly under the radar for being, frankly, the piece of trash that it is. I don’t know one person who actually liked the movie. It seems like everybody who’s actually seen it agrees that it is unwatchable.


Then, the good press started coming in. Seemingly out of nowhere and all at once, accolade after accolade was awarded to this movie. I was absolutely flabbergasted. It seemed so obvious that they had bought good reviews in response to how embarrassingly it flopped at the box office. These reviews are in stark contrast to less-than-mediocre audience reviews. On Google, for instance, it has more one-star reviews than any other number on their one through five scale. This was followed by a deluge of award nominations.

One question burned in my mind: Why?

The cruelest part of this dumb joke is that there was one other Western that came out this year that was not only a much better film than The Power of the Dog, with better performances, writing, and music, but a cut above the majority of the rest of the films in the 2022 awards season: The Harder they Fall. However, this film did not receive any awards nominations and did even worse at the box office than its counterpart (again, doing our best to account for streaming), despite the fact that it got rave reviews from both film critics and audience ratings. The one major difference that set these two films apart?

The Harder they Fall featured an almost entirely black cast.

While The Power of the Dog had a cast comprised of all white actors, The Harder they Fall was one of only a handful of black Westerns in the history of American film. For some reason, despite the title at the beginning of the film that the characters were based on real people, many Americans think that black people somehow didn’t exist in the Wild West, or that there weren’t any black cowboys.

But, there were. There were plenty of black settlements all over the plains. I mean, where do you think the black people all went during this time period? Do you think the slaves just disappeared after abolition? No! They founded their own towns, away from the cruelty of the white people who had enslaved their ancestors. Plus, in comparing Benedict Cumberbatch, an Englishman playing a rancher, against Idris Elba, an Englishman playing a cowboy, it is clear to see who gave the better performance. Idris Elba was unreal, terrifying, as his character. Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t give a performance anywhere close to what Idris Elba did.

I know everyone is tired of hearing it, but…

Racism once again is the winner in Hollywood awards shows. It’s so blatantly obvious; they’re not even trying to hide it. The only people of color who were nominated for awards shows this season were veterans of the business who had been nominated in the past. Will Smith and Denzel Washington are hardly revolutionary nominations, no matter how good their performances might have been. Additionally, the movies they were nominated for were made by white production teams, as opposed to The Harder they Fall, which had an entirely black production team. We can’t invite good change by continuing old habits. Stop this nonsense with nominating people and productions that don’t deserve it.

I’m not saying that a movie should receive nominations just because they were made by people of color. Of course, they have to be quality films. But they shouldn’t be excluded because they don’t have a high percentage of white people on the production team. Hollywood is such a closed circle, and they’re shut especially tight to certain minority groups. Hollywood is very representative of the prejudices of American society, since it’s all about making money instead of art. They’d rather make a quick buck off of easy, mindless films like The Power of the Dog than support a strong film like The Harder they Fall. They don’t want to challenge people to go beyond their comfort zones because that might mean less money coming in.

That’s what I have to say about this. What do you think?


Photo by John Kakuk on Unsplash

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