The Harder They Fall, 2021.
Directed by Jeymes Samuel.
Starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, R.J. Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole, and Regina King.
Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) is an outlaw for the common man. Stealing from those who do the heavy lifting, he is at loggerheads with Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Driven by vengeance, Nat desires retribution for long forgotten crimes.
There is such a confidence and self-assurance to this revisionist Western, that audiences will be hard pushed to believe The Harder They Fall is a debut feature. What begins as a simple retribution story dripping with style from every quarter, develops into something unique to this filmmaker. Not only in his use of the camera, but in his deployment of rhythmic close ups for specific scenes. In so doing writer-director Jeymes Samuel has concocted a heady mix of contemporary music, to match his visual flair and implementation of classical framing.
Dustbowl vistas, frontier towns and armoured car breakouts hit all the requisite notes as his creation is brought to life. Bleeding Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone from every pore, The Harder They Fall feels part spaghetti Western, part grindhouse exploitation flick, but then peppers a little John Ford in there for good measure. With the triple threat of Idris Elba, Regina King and Jonathan Majors facing off against one another as well, it also has cultural representation front and centre from the get go.
By settling on a completely black cast to balance the scales, Jeymes Samuel does more than put actors of colour on screen. His script feels modern, his character exchanges feel contemporary and their behaviours sit in direct opposition to the time period. Whether that is through his choice of original music and eclectic needle drops, or specific uses of visual symbolism in relation to race, The Harder They Fall runs deeper than most.
Jonathan Majors as Nat Love is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in acting circles. With his breakout turn in Lovecraft Country, a scene stealing introduction for Loki and now this nuanced anti-hero, he is quickly becoming a hot property. With Nat Love he slots into the Western stereotype, yet subverts it through moments of humanity, which have more to do with character creation than colour. His scenes with Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary are charged with intimacy, understanding and innate back story.
Similarly, when he first encounters Idris Elba’s Rufus Buck, there is a visual stand off and casually cool recognition. There is friction, a clash of belief systems and yet a grudging respect which seeps between the cracks of their encounters. Stylistically Jeymes Samuel keeps it on point by peppering key scenes with humour and allowing these characters to bed in. Editing choices are also key in conveying understated intimacy and narrative pointers in the lead up to that low key resolution.
With a clever use of split screen dynamics, comic book panels and graphic novel framing, The Harder They Fall also gives this seasoned genre a much needed adrenaline shot. Regina King’s Trudy Smith is an empowerment symbol for the ages, while her scenes opposite Zazie Beetz are charged with an electricity which is barely kept in check. Elsewhere, other assembled members of this cast including Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield and Edi Gathegi flesh out the cinematic canvas.
Detractors may say that the story which underpins this debut feature is too simplistic, or that Jeymes Samuel may be more style than substance, but The Harder They Fall is more than just disposable entertainment. It adds to the discussion around identity, representation and equality for not just actors of colour. In a devastating opening gambit, Jeymes Samuel has given audiences another way into an ongoing debate, that ties into the themes of clashing power structures inherent to every Western. Not only progressing the discussion on film, but broadening the playing field in person.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★