The Harder They Fall, 2021.
Directed by Jeymes Samuel.
Starring Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, Edi Gathegi, Delroy Lindo, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, and Deon Cole.
When an outlaw discovers an enemy who has wronged him in the past is being released from prison, he reunites his gang in order to seek revenge.
Every so often a film rides into town to remind you of why you fell in love with those magical moving images in the first place. Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall is one such movie. An outstanding, and I can’t emphasise that enough, revisionist Western that shoots from the holster with a style and execution that heralds the arrival of a new filmmaking Most Wanted.
It’s an African-American tale as old as them thar hills, but one very rarely told, with gangs, guns, saloons, and double crossing ticking all of the genre bingo boxes, but featuring a set of characters who haven’t really been given this kind of representation in the genre for nigh-on twenty years (think Mario Van Peebles Posse), that it all feels timely and invigoratingly fresh. As the opening title screen tells us, this story might be fictional, but the people are not.
It’s probably worth starting with those embodying the people in question, because every single actor in this line-up are bringing their A-game to Samuel’s shootout. Idris Elba hasn’t been this subtly terrifying since his days as Stringer Bell, Delroy Lindo is worthy of the nomination he should have received for Da 5 Bloods, while Regina King relishes the chance to chew the scenery and look stylish as hell doing it. Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, the list of terrific performances is longer than their character felony lists.
The beating heart of this tale of revenge is Jonathan Majors, here delivering another showcase performance that ranges from your classical Western protagonist heroics, to the kind of vulnerability you wouldn’t have seen from any of his genre forbearers. That kind of stoic toughness is reserved for Zazie Beetz’s frontier entrepreneur, whose evolution throughout the film is probably the most interesting of any of the ensemble, not least the exciting way in which her arc is resolved. But it’s LaKeith Stanfield’s eloquent outlaw who completely steals the bounty with one of the most charming and mesmerising performances of the year.
However, if The Harder They Fall is to be lauded for one thing above all else, then it’s the stunning direction from Jeymes Samuel, who frames the film in such a way that it fuses the recognisable genre signifiers with his own impressive style, resulting in a movie which feels wholly unique. There are some wonderful visuals on display, like an overhead cast shadow stand-off between duelling outlaws, or the bravura tracking shot which travels the length of the street between Elba and Majors, which at once harkens back to those famous Spaghetti Western fights, while simultaneously working in its own right. Such techniques are also sparingly used, so it never gets tired, or feels like it’s too informed by its influences.
The same approach is taken with the superb score, which mashes the woodwind and guitar heavy sounds of the Wild West with modern sensibilities. It isn’t as jarring as it might sound, probably because Samuel also has a career as a singer-songwriter under the pseudonym Bullitts, cut his teeth working in the music department on the likes of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and has Jay-Z as one of the film’s producers. With that kind of track record, there’s no surprise that the incredible music compliments the onscreen creativity and performances, while also being guaranteed to be on repeat for every discerning film fan over the next few weeks.
With all these impressive components working in harmony like the inner mechanics of one of Idris Elba’s gold plated revolvers, The Harder They Fall is a lean, brutal and beautiful shot to the head of the Western genre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt