The Harder They Fall has been reviewed by the BFI London Film Festival as it has its world premiere. It will be released in limited cinemas on October 22, and on Netflix on November 3.
Author, director, and musician James Samuel begins The Harder They Fall with this statement: “While the events of this story are fictional…these are the people. They exist.” A quick Google search confirmed this statement, as Nat Love, Rufus Buck, Marie Stigcoach and Cherokee Bell, the characters represented by Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, and Lakeith Stanfield respectively, are alive and living in the Old West. But they are all there except for the name in this iconic cowboy movie, because their characteristics, motives, and depraved adventures don’t quite match up with their real-life counterparts. Nonetheless, Samuel offers a hilarious, witty story centered on black people who have as many features as Carmen Jones as much as Tarantino or the old Westerns shot in Italy on a budget.
The film opens with a tense beginning that sets the stage for the violent style of this bloody revenge saga, where young Nat Love is introduced to outlaw Rufus Buck by murdering his parents. With a razor scar on his forehead, Nat grows up to be an outlaw in his own right, but similar to Omar’s character in The Wire, he has his own law and he and his crew only target outlaws. Majors playing Nat is not the typical cowboy we are used to. Charisma and charisma, he never fails to show Nat’s humanity when key emotional scenes require him to deliver a deep performance.
Similarly, Elba delivers a powerful performance as Kingpin-like crime lord, sowing terror, pain, and death to achieve his ultimate goal of a promised land for black Americans. In one scene a train carriage widens to make way for Buck, the big Elba man, but this clever use of computer-generated imagery, plus sharp angles, makes his towering figure even more intimidating. A powerful scene in the final act also allows the British actor to enjoy the complexity of this villain in a performance that ranks among the best of his career.
Beg and Luv are enhanced by a crew of unique gangsters who add a lot to their criminal adventures. Namely, Regina King as “The Traitor” Trudy Smith, and Lakeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bell, give the characters an equally distinctive character. Meanwhile, Eddie Gathegy’s Bill Beckett and RJ Cyler’s Jim Beckworth balance light and dark as the film’s comedic duo. There is real contemporary humor in Samuel’s text and co-writer Boaz Yakin. Not every shot fired is a bullet, it can sometimes be a funny sentence, and it is often used to challenge expectations about how an emotional confrontation will turn out.
This gentle mood coincides with a playful soundtrack that includes references to classic Western tunes by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, basic reggae and afrobeat music, and a new song from Jay-Z (also produced in the film). These tunes enhance the black experience in the typically white-dominated genre of film. Samuel’s Wild West counteracts oppressive stereotypes by keeping white people on the sidelines, with black actors playing every major role, from outlaw to marshal to theater actor to villain. Without any hint of racial racism.
It’s refreshing to see this old Hollywood tradition through the lens of blacks. Cowboy scenes bring a sense of authority to gunfights, and showcase the vast American background, with close-ups that make close-up collision scenes entertaining. This journey of revenge between friends and foes culminates in a bloody and brutal confrontation throughout the ages as well, which culminates in this wonderful film in an exhilarating fashion.
– Translated by Dima Muhanna
The Harder Fall breaks with and embraces the tradition of Western films with stunning shooter battles, witty dialogue, and a top-notch cast of superior performances. Add to all that a great soundtrack, and you’ve got a fun and exhilarating modern American western that cleverly puts a black story right at the center.