The Buck Stops Here
The Harder They Fall is packed with style and a gorgeous aesthetic, which is just as well given how formulaic its story is. Netflix’s latest western ticks all the cliched boxes for this genre, but where it excels is in its characters, which are both unique and echo elements of Clint Eastwood’s old flicks. In its simplest form, Netflix’s long-awaited crime thriller is a classic revenge western, featuring an almost all-black cast.
The story opens with a young boy called Nat Love forced to watch his parents being brutally murdered at the hands of ruthless outlaw Rufus Buck and his crew.
When Love steals from the Crimson Hood gang many years later, he’s promised that it won’t end well. And when Rufus Buck is freed by his fellow gang members after serving time before bars, that only ramps up the tension. He teams up with several ruthless outlaws, including Treacherous Trudy and Cherokee Bill, determined to take back what Love has stolen. Only, Love is desperate to gain his revenge on Buck too, setting up a show-stopping showdown between the pair.
The Harder They Fall has influences from old westerns all over the place through its run-time and it’s actually quite fun to spot them all. During the film’s opening act, as the title credits appear on-screen, the freezeframe shots feel like they’ve been ripped right out of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The quick wit and bites of humour emulate that seen in Django Unchained while the story itself is similar in set-up and execution to many other westerns of the 60’s and 70’s.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and as I said before it’s the characters who really shine through. Everyone does a great job, although it’s undoubtedly Idris Elba who shines brightest as the ruthless and cold Rufus Buck. There’s some great moments with his character across the run-time of the movie, and his counterpart, played by Jonathan Majors, has just the right amount of inner conflict to make him easy to root for.
Now, those expecting an accurate retelling of the multi-racial gang from the 1890’s will be left wanting. This is very much a fictional retelling of the Buck gang, which the film is quick to point out during its opening credit scroll. With that in mind, if you can go in knowing this is largely a fictional story, you’re bound to have a much better time.
Aesthetically, The Harder They Fall is a gorgeously rendered picture. The sets are brilliantly designed, the soundtrack is pure fire and the long establishing shots of the dusty deserts and shanty towns lives and breathes western territory. If Hell or High Water is a modern western in the conventional sense, The Harder They Fall is a better example of how to modernize a classic genre while keeping all the components the same.
Despite the aforementioned cliched story, this actually feels much closer to a love letter of the genre, rather than a blatant rip-off. Director and writer Jeymes Samuel has done a great job in that respect, and the fact this emulates some of Eastwood’s classic movies only reinforces that.
The film isn’t without its flaws though. The movie is far too long for its own good, and at 2 hours 19 minutes, this could very easily have shaved off about 30-40 minutes and be a lot stronger for it. This ultimately bogs down the pacing, especially during the middle portion of the movie, where everything is gearing up for the final fight.
The writing itself is pretty simplistic and easily the one part of this picture that doesn’t quite stand up to the visuals. In the moment that’s absolutely fine but in terms of longevity, one does have to wonder whether this has the same legs something like Unforgiven or Django Unchained has.
Despite that though, The Harder They Fall is actually a pretty decent film overall. It’s a classic western revenge, mixed up and modernized with a gorgeous aesthetic and a killer soundtrack. The pacing a little too slow, and the movie is far too long, but the characters and an unexpected twist at the end. are just enough to make this cliched dusty road into Western territory worth traveling.
Read More: The Harder They Fall Ending Explained
Verdict - 7.5/10