REVIEW: Elba shines in modern western ‘The Harder They Fall’

Netflix’s latest blockbuster is a modern take on the classic western. It tells the story of Nat Love (Jonathon Majors) who assembles his ragtag gang of outlaws to find and kill Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), the ruthless murderer who has just escaped from prison.  

The story is full of homages to westerns: the sharpshooter, the fastest gun in the West and the old timer marshal. These references are tongue in cheek but do feel a bit cliched and unnecessary at times. The storyline itself is formulaic. It is entertaining and fast-moving but the second act feels unnecessary and there is a lack of character development. 

Given this is director Jeymes Samuel’s first major film, he shows a remarkable flair for cinematography. The towns are full of colour and life and the wide shots of the vast plains and mountains are breath-taking in their scale and beauty. The action scenes are well executed and the use of close-ups perfectly captures the characters’ emotions. The film is visually spectacular. 

Samuel has had a distinguished career as a music producer and worked as music consultant on the Great Gatsby. He utilises his expertise and contacts in the music industry to compose a phenomenal soundtrack. The use of reggae songs, many of which Samuels remixes himself, gives the film a warm tone while simultaneously building the tension. The soundtrack is the most impressive aspect of the film, adding a depth of emotion to the formulaic narrative. 

Majors has emerged as one of the best up-and coming actors in Hollywood. He brings his usual magnetism and charm to the role of Nat Love, making him a warm and affable hero. Nat’s chemistry with fearsome saloon owner Mary Fields (Zazie Beatz) feels genuine and organic thanks to outstanding performances from both actors. 

Unfortunately, the writing undermines these performances as the heroes’ characters are stereotypical and lack depth, making it difficult to get emotionally invested in them.

Although not given much screen time, the star of the show is Elba. Buck is the epitome of evil, referred to as the devil himself. Elba’s chilling emotional detachment and immense physical presence make Buck a genuinely menacing antagonist.  

Other standout performances are LaKeith Stanfield and Regina King as Buck’s henchmen. Both characters are so charismatic they are strangely likeable despite their cruelty and malevolence. The writing is more nuanced for the villains allowing these two to shine in their roles. 

‘The Harder They Fall’ is a film of contrasts. The soundtrack is exceptional, the film looks wonderful, and it boasts immense performances from an all-star cast. Unfortunately the narrative and writing is mediocre making it a good, entertaining film rather than a great one. 

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