The Harder They Fall (2021)
The Harder They Fall (2021)

Genre: Action and Western Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.

Release Date: November 3rd, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jeymes Samuel Actors: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Edi Gathegi, R.J. Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler

 


 

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n Salinas, Texas, Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) tracks down Jesus Cortez (Julio Cesar Cedillo), a man who aided in the merciless slaughter of Nat’s mother and father, while also holding him down as a cross was carved into his forehead as a young boy – on the orders of the ruthless killer Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Now, an outlaw with a sizable bounty to his name, Love leads his own gang, including Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (R.J. Cyler), who specialize in robbing from bank robbers, thereby remaining somewhat anonymous in the eyes of the law. And his crew is about to get bigger when he recruits former flame Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) and her saloon’s diminutive but capable bouncer Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), who come in handy when he needs to elude U.S. Marshal Reeves (Delroy Lindo) and resolve unfinished business with the recently pardoned Buck.

From the opening moments, it’s evident that writer/director Jeymes Samuel isn’t channeling classic Westerns (Spaghetti or otherwise) as much as he’s drawing inspiration from Quentin Tarantino and even Wes Anderson with extremely colorful, sharply framed, highly stylized imagery. The violence is nonsensically excessive, with bodies slow-motion-dancing through the air as they spurt blood, and gruesome casualties accruing left and right; the reckless disregard for human life is largely comical, though a few moments are genuinely brutal. Nevertheless, the editing surrounding these sequences, as well as many other moments, is spectacularly engaging, making use of countless bizarre gimmicks, unusual camera angles, distortions, and more. Samuel is undoubtedly inserting his own off-the-wall twists into conventional storytelling.

“I think y’all gonna die.” Although it’s populated by typical Western scenarios, this film is far from typical; it feels continually anachronistic in almost every aspect, despite a certain faithfulness to locations, weaponry, buildings, and other background props. It’s without a doubt a visionary interpretation of this time and place (most obviously with its all-Black cast, considering that many of the characters are based on real people), from the dialogue to the set decorations to the soundtrack (which is exceptionally entertaining and fitting) to the humor. Perhaps the only adherence to a recognizable formula is that the heroes are heroic (or at least sympathetic) and the villains are unequivocally villainous, with many of them cast against type – chiefly Elba, who plays a quietly fierce, monstrous sort of antagonist, though LaKeith Stanfield and Regina King are also unexpectedly nefarious lackeys.

Disappointingly, Nat Love and his gang don’t appear to have much of a plan when it comes to revenge against Rufus Buck; there’s something discouraging about believing, even if momentarily, that the good guys aren’t as clever as the bad guys. Nevertheless, the finale is quite the stimulating, over-the-top annihilation of a tremendous amount of gunmen, demonstrating a flair for action-packed shootouts – even if some of the long-awaited face-offs aren’t as climactic or as raucous as viewers might hope for. And it’s all a bit too long, ruining the pacing of what could have been a taut thriller (with an appropriately resolute conclusion), especially when the violence and gunplay grow repetitive.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10