The Hired Hand (1971) Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom, Robert Pratt Movie Review

The Hired Hand (1971)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Peter Fonda in The Hired Hand (1971)

The Art of the West

Years earlier Harry (Peter Fonda) abandoned his wife Hanna (Vera Bloom) and their daughter Janey (Megan Denver) in search of a better life, travelling across America to try and find it, doing his best to avoid trouble or anyone else's problems. But after years of going from one place to another Harry decides to return home and take up the family way of life once again except Hannah having given up on him is not going to let him just walk straight back in to her or their daughter's lives. Forced to sleep in the barn and work as a hired hands slowly Hannah warms to having him around once again. But when he receives some news about Archie (Warren Oates) who he would travel with it forces Harry to make a decision, a difficult one at that.

Is cinema purely a form of entertainment or is it also a form of art? Whilst I have no objection to those who delight in the artistic nature of cinema for me personally I see it as a form of entertainment first. The question is a surprisingly important one if you stumble across Peter Fonda's forgotten western/drama "The Hired Man" because as entertainment it is for me a weak movie but as a piece of art it is stunning. It is why I can understand why some have a fondness for this drama because frankly if Fonda had managed to deliver the entertainment factor alongside his artistic vision this would have been a masterpiece.

Verna Bloom in The Hired Hand (1971)

So the positives of "The Hired Man" is that visually it is stunning with pretty much every visual taking your breath away from the way the dirt covers a dead man's gun as he is buried to the way the light of a fire provides a warm orange halo around Harry and Archie as they read a letter. Throw in creative use of their experiences together as a projection against the night sky behind them as well as countless close ups and even for someone who found the movie lacking in entertainment I still found it visually stunning. Although I will say that at times Fonda and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's artistic bint comes across as too constructed for what is a western drama.

But the negative is that "The Hired Man" is this tale of friendship and a painfully slow tale at that. We watch as in their quiet way Harry and Archie are very close having ridden the range together for years and then when having moved on Archie finds himself conflicted over his loyalty to his friend even when he has re-established his connection with his uncompromising wife. It is so ridiculously drawn out that at times you begin to question whether the movie has a story and instead is more akin to a 90 minute music video as it has so many artistic shots and overlays.

What this all boils down to is that "The Hired Hand" is simply an astonishingly beautiful movie but one which struggles as a piece of entertainment thanks to every scene being painfully slow and overly artistic.