Film Review: The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall
Director: Jeymes Samuel
In Theaters: 10.22 | Streaming on Netflix: 11.03
I really like a good western, and to say that I’m an aficionado of the genre is an understatement, but it’s rare that one really of note comes along. The Harder They Fall isn’t just noteworthy—it’s a movie that books will be written about in the future. The Harder They Fall begins with a title card that reads: “While the events of this story are fictional… These. People. Existed.” It’s a reference to the fact that many of the characters are based on and named after real people and far more importantly, that Black cowboys existed and that the old west wasn’t the all-white place (apart from one token tall Black guy with a rifle) that Hollywood has sold us on.
When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors, Lovecraft Country) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba, The Suicide Squad) is being released from prison, Nat rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge. Joining Nat is his former lover, Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Nine Days), hot-tempered Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi, X-Men: First Class), quickdraw Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and the scrappy tomboy, Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler, Watchmen, Jane and Emma). Rufus has his own fearsome crew, including “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah), and they are not a group that knows how to lose.
Musician and music-video director Jeymes Samuel’s biggest feature credit up to this point was as the music supervisor on The Great Gatsby, and you can tell that working with Baz Luhrmann made an impression on him. The Harder They Fall has a touch of the visionary Australian director’s anachronistic sensibilities, not to mention the colorful production design and unconventional money shots. There’s also a touch of Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead and a smattering of Quentin Tarantino, though there’s a big difference here: Where Django Unchained celebrated blacksploitation movies, The Harder They Fall celebrates Black Americans and their impact on the culture of the past and the present.
That’s not to say that The Harder The Fall isn’t an ultra-violent, formula shoot ’em. Alongside this, though, there’s a progressive, new-school attitude and a sense of pride. Cinematographer Mahai Malaimare Jr.’s gorgeous lensing adds a further, light-hearted love for the old-school cowboy genre. But the commentary on racial issues is also more subtle, layered and complex than in Django, going in a different direction from what you might expect. The Harder They Fall also boasts a killer soundtrack featuring a variety of artists, including a collaboration between JAY-Z and Kid Cudi, though the best tracks are Samuel’s remix of reggae artist Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come” and a soulful saloon number performed by Beetz.
The cast of The Harder They Fall is ferociously good, with Powers and Elba both riding tall in the saddle. The rare moments they share on screen are powerful. Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods) gives a winning, movie-star performance as Marshall Bass Reeves. King is outstanding in a complicated role, Deadwyler makes a big impression and Cyler is a charmer. But for my money it’s Stanfield and Beetz, two of the most disarmingly charismatic actors working today, who create the most entertaining characterizations.
The Harder They Fall is a big, bold, badass blast of fun that follows plenty of genre conversations while breathing its own unique life into the story it tells, and it’s one of the most satisfying gourmet popcorn flicks of the year. –Patrick Gibbs