“The Harder They Fall” is a striking western drama featuring a vast and talented cast that was filmed in Santa Fe. This extravagant tale of the Wild West is well worth a watch. While the film is classic in structure, it’s expertly executed with exciting new twists.
Co-written and solely directed by Jeymes Samuel, “The Harder They Fall” packs a punch. At first it seems to revel in its own melodrama, but over the course of 139 minutes, it blossoms into an original tragic story of the cyclical nature of violence and vengeance.
The evolution of the story is supported by visuals that a big movie theater screen was designed for and audio that traces back to Samuel’s own musical background. At times it feels slightly self-indulgent but it’s still worth the watch.
Jonathan Majors leads as Nat Love, a cowboy seeking revenge for the murders of his parents. He is joined by Idris Elba as the ruthless Rufus Buck, Regina King as sidekick-like Trudy Smith and Deon Cole as Nat’s ex-partner-in-crime Wiley Escoe. The cast works beautifully together, conveying the complexities of their characters and the relationships they share with skill and care.
The movie industry continues to grow in New Mexico and “The Harder They Fall” is one of many projects that has relied on the state for set locations in recent years. The landscapes of Diablo Canyon and a handful of local ranches can be seen in great detail throughout the movie’s outdoor shots, with the dusty frontier providing a melancholic backdrop for the lonely tale.
Blood is no stranger to the ground Nat walks, as the world he was brought up in is one brimming with crime. The audience is pulled into this — albeit with the safety of slow-moving reality on their side — and there are minimal conflicts which don’t end in a gunfight or some other violent outburst. One scene toward the tail end of the film features a painfully realistic bullet to the neck, so if you’re squeamish, beware.
Oftentimes, violence in large productions erodes the complex morality of crime and punishment, but “The Harder They Fall” uses those anticipated Western gunshots and scars to highlight the film’s political underbelly. Approaching issues of bigotry without locking characters into a box, the characters discuss racism and their experiences having faced it but the story is not built around it.
The grandiosity of the film is sometimes excessive, with melodrama cutting through what might’ve been a hard-hitting scene, but this is to be expected in a western and sometimes it’s part of the fun. The runtime is the only legitimate issue with the film. To carve out nearly two and a half hours is a big ask of the audience, despite the beauty behind the establishing long-shots.
Decorated in ornate costumes and inhabiting surprisingly vast mansions at times, the characters spend much of the film swimming — sometimes even drowning — in lush fabrics and glittering metals. While it creates glamorous visuals, it’s somewhat hollow. Glitz doesn’t build a story and offers little in terms of supporting one. These borderline gaudy settings sometimes fill the screen to near excess, pulling from the story and eating at the emotionality of the scenes.
Outside of the theater, the film will be cramped visually to the point of quality compromise. The story may live on by the means of the actors, but opulent audiovisual elements are sure to be degraded and the juxtaposing subtlety of the acting will likely be lost completely. Screens that are a mere 4 inches do few movies justice, but one with such intense, quick shots and magnificent wide shots will face an especially unfortunate hindrance.
Since “The Harder They Fall” is only available on Netflix and not in theaters anymore, the small screen won’t allow for the brunt of the film to be appreciated. Still, there’s much to enjoy and it’s surely worth a casual viewing.
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Natalie Jude is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @natalaroni