Some films have a title that permeates through the telling of its story. The Power of the Dog is not one of those films. It’s the story of a family of ranchers set in 1925 Montana. There is a brief reference to the title in the middle of the film, but, this film truly turns on its subtlety…

Story: I have been trying to put my finger on exactly which theme is most poignant in the film and I can’t pinpoint it. I just don’t feel like any one element was fully developed. I feel like a theme was introduced and left behind. Alchoholism was introduced… political ties were introduced… one of the brother’s Ivy League education was introduced while the other brother’s stepson’s medical education was introduced…. Lots of introductions that went nowhere.

The only theme that got more than a mention in scene time was references to the stepson’s sexuality. It ran through more than one scene and culminated in another, subtle but suggestive scene near the end of the film. But overall, this film has more value in the individual performances.

Performances: The standout performance for this film is Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank. We get a good sense of who he is and where he stands. His relationship with his brother George played by Jesse Plemons is strained and labored… well played, but the performance as George is not of note.

The only other significant roles are Kirsten Dunst as the widow Rose and Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son Peter. George marries Rose and we find out that Peter goes off to school in a roundabout way. Don’t see many Oscar nominations in this film but…

Visual: The look of this film is one of its value points. Gold rush era in the early 20th century is clear. Ranch life in Montana… Check.

This is a quiet film as well. Subtleties create the look in some scenes. Costumes are spot on and do a good job of representing the time accurately. The also help confirm the way of life for the period.

Rating: I have gone back and forth on this rating because stories are what make a film great first followed by pieces-parts like strong performances. But a strong performance doesn’t always win the day. Benedict Cumberbatch gets an A for performance but the overall film is a B for me. It just doesn’t come together as a cohesive story.

See this film if you’re a Benedict Cumberbatch fan…