The Harder They Fall (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – When an outlaw discovers his enemy is being released from prison, he reunites his gang to seek revenge in this Western.

My Take – While the Western genre for decades has been dominated by predominately white people, front and back of the camera, with the occasional star studded ventures like the Quentin Tarantino directed Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015) mixing up the status quo to spice things up.

However, for his feature-length debut British musician Jaymes Samuel (brother of singer Seal) puts pistols firmly in the hands of a predominantly black cast to create a stylish infused take on familiar gritty revenge westerns, with spills of blood, winks of nasty, knowing humor and an eclectic, joyfully anachronistic soundtrack featuring works from Jay-Z (also producer), Nina Simone alongside Samuel’s original score.

And with the star studded cast playing a number of actual Black historical figures from the Old West, the result is cooked up a fun, slick, and suave Black-centric narrative that has as much in common with the likes of blaxploitation films as it does with the Spaghetti Westerns it riffs off.

To its credit, the film operates mostly as a rollicking, expansive genre piece, eagerly mixing and matching elements of filmmaker Sergio Leone and music-video aesthetics and just about everything else into something that feels exciting and new, even if it often lacks coherence or cohesion. But what’s most revolutionary about the film is its devotion to being pure, unadulterated entertainment.

After opening with a tense prologue which sets the violent tone, the story follows Nat Love (Johnathan Majors), who after being orphaned at a young age by the Rufus Buck Gang has grown up to become an outlaw himself, and just finished taking revenge on the men who perpetrated that long-ago crime, leaving only their leader, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), who is serving a life sentence in Yuma prison.

And while he seeks to rekindle his relationship with former partner and lover Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Nat is shocked to find out that Buck’s lieutenants, Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield) have managed to free him by making a deal with the government, and has set up base once again in the all-black town of Redwood City by removing the corrupt sheriff and former member of Buck’s gang, Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole) from power.

With his thirst of revenge again unquenched Nat teams up with U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), the lawman who originally captured Rufus, and reassembles his gang with Mary, Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) to take down the Rufus Buck Gang once and for all.

Without a doubt director Jeymes Samuel is a fan of the genre, as the film is enormously entertaining on a scene-by-scene basis, filled with sequences that don’t serve much narrative purpose but seem designed to astonish us. All the while capturing the classic feel of westerns with more modern attitudes to realistic violence and some salty language. The action is impressive and at times fairly bloody. There is a degree of humor, enough to make me laugh without getting in the way of the action.

There are imaginative and suspenseful set pieces, Trudy peeling an apple while she tells the captive Mary a story; a bank robbery in a town so white that even the dust on Main Street looks bleached, and plenty of more conventional episodes of shooting and punching.

These people existed, in one form or another, and it’s a lot of fun to see which of them still do by the time they’ve all run out of bullets. It’s certainly refreshing to see this Old Hollywood tradition continued through a Black lens. Cowboy shots frame gunfighters with authority, wide shots show off the expansive, Americana backdrop, and hybrid zooms make for amusing crash close-ups, director Samuels’ feature debut is an impressive display of myth-making that has made the Old West great again.

Sure, not everything works like the burgeoning romance between Nat and Mary feels under-cooked, but director Samuel presents a dynamic version of the Western fit for modern-day consumption. Writing, directing, producing and probably even loading the shotguns between each take, his fingerprints are also all over the soundtrack, writing the score and adding playful tunes all over the picture.

Each performer has been perfectly cast and given generous monologues and scenery-chewing moments to bring their characters to life. Jonathan Majors impresses and Idris Elba is great as always. Delroy Lindo knows how to make the most of his valuable screen time, Lakeith Stanfield is clearly enjoying himself, while Regina King and Zazie Beetz are both commanding. Edi Gathegi and RJ Cyler also reliably balance the light and the dark as a comical duo.

Damon Wayans Jr. and Deon Cole are effective too in smaller role. However, the most intriguing character is Danielle Deadwyler’s Cuffee, who brings a complex personality long ignored by Westerns. On the whole, ‘The Harder They Fall’ is a stylish star-studded Black Western that is devoted to providing unadulterated entertainment.

Directed –

Starring – Edi Gathegi, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba

Rated – R

Run Time – 130 minutes

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