Review: The Harder They Fall (15)

Jeymes Samuel's new film is one of very few Westerns with a majority Black cast. With characters based on real like figures such as Stagecoach Mary and Cathay Williams played by an all star cast, does this film reach its great potential?

Joe Millward
10th November 2021
Credit: Youtube.

The Harder They Fall plucks legends from across time to annihilate tropes of white-washed Westerns, without batting one Clint-squinted eye. 

An opening salvo of gaudy gold and exaggerated claret draws many comparisons, but as the cinematography rapidly accelerates past Tarantino-esque zooms to fresh compositions and fun camerawork, it is clear another charismatic director has arrived.

Idris Elba plays the villain in this film. Credit: Youtube

However, there is a fear that develops as we are introduced to every variety of smooth talking badass; that this film will be all style and no substance. Director Jeymes Samuel, has only shorts and music videos under his (gun)belt, and it shows. Every aspect of the film is pushed to be as slick and ‘cool’ as possible, even when little is happening.

Lending the film weight then, is the cast. It seems miraculous that so much charisma can be crammed in and maintain a concerted direction, yet the excellent cast give each other (and the audience) breathing room, which is critical in such a busy film.

this is a West that glows with warmth as opposed to being burnt out

Zazie Beetz (Atlanta) is excellent as Stagecoach Mary while RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) plays the joker with enough naivety to feel like a real character, sidestepping the Ryan-Reynolds-trademarked inanity. Danielle Deadwyler’s (The Devil to Pay) Cuffee, easily tackles a fresh character who stands well apart from archaic tropes. Idris Elba (Luther) takes a rare turn as villain, and while it feels like he could have done more with the role, it's this breathing room that allows such a cast to complement over compete. His partner in crime, Trudy, stands out best, a cold character who could easily blend in were it not for Regina King's (If Beale Street Could Talk) cool gravitas.

This is aided by the excellent costume design, which is especially noticeable in the film's use of color; saturated greens, reds and deep blues - this is a West that glows with warmth as opposed to being burnt out, and it feels so much more real for it. Sure, we’ve seen saloons and shacks before, but they pop off screen in a way they never have before here.

The film has a bright and unusual colour palette. Credit: Youtube

Aside from being visually striking, with a cast you can’t help but follow, there is little depth in this film. The plot has some good turns, but it feels tame compared to other elements. Similarly, despite its many reinventions and reinvigorations of the genre, it is still plagued by classic issues - there are only so many rifle and revolver gun fights one can watch.

‘The Harder They Fall’ is definitely a fun watch, if only because it pushes everything to the limit. It doesn't always work, and though I knew what was going to happen next, I always wanted to see how it would be executed. 

4/5

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