Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Harder They Fall (2021) - Movie Review

The Movie: The Harder They Fall

The Director: Jeymes Samuel

The Cast: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler,
Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole, Regina King, Idris Elba

The Story: In this Western, outlaw Nat Love discovers that his enemy, Rufus Buck, is being released from prison, so he reunites his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge.

The Review:
This is one of those movies I went into having not seen the trailer or reading anything about the story. The only things I know was that it is a Western and the cast looks pretty fantastic. After watching the movie, which I thoroughly enjoyed and we'll get to that in a moment, I wanted to know more about the director Jeymes Samuel and the characters which were real life people even if the story itself is a work of fiction. It turns out Samuel knows his Westerns, both theatrical and historical, and pulled these characters from whatever historical records he could find and then threw them all together for a truly and authentically Black Western experience.

Back in 2013, Samuel created a short film that co-existed with an album, both titled They Die By Dawn, he released under his music moniker "The Bullitts" that used several of the same historical figures which, looking at it now, seems like it was a test run, maybe unintentionally, for this feature length, blockbuster caliber film. For both the short and the feature, Samuel assembled an all star cast, the best of the best to make sure each would be as legendary as the characters the cast members played. I mean, most theaters would need a larger marquee (if they still have one) to fit all the top billing quality names in this movie with Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield, and Regina King just to name a few.

The movie is very stylish and glossy and feels like a major motion picture and I am happy to have had the opportunity to watch it on a big theater screen where it belongs (it's a Netflix movie, by the way). The colors are bold and the cinematography is epic in scale like the cinematic Westerns of old although the soundtrack is something different entirely and I mean that in the best of ways. You can tell that the director put a lot of thought into integrating the music with each scene that it falls into, sometimes literally driving the narrative forward and other times providing a perfectly complementary backdrop. I suppose this is to be expected with music icon Jay Z on board as a producer. The duo worked together on created the musical landscape for Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby and have collaborated on other projects as well.

Let me get back to the cast for a second. I mentioned Elba, Stanfield, and King but the real star of the show is Jonathan Majors who plays the lead character Nat Love. You may recognize the man from recent roles as Atticus Freeman in the Lovecraft Country TV show and as Kang the Conqueror in Marvel's Loki series on Disney Plus, a role which he will continue to develop in the next installment of the Ant-Man and the Wasp movies. What he does in this movie I think  stands out above everything else he has done and shows that he is ready to take the next step into a-list level stardom right alongside his co-star the once again aforementioned Idris Elba.

We also get great work from Delroy Lindo, because we always get great work from Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beatz who  absolutely embodies the character of Stagecoach Mary who was played by none other than Erykah Badu in Samuel's short film so you can imagine how badass of character Mary must be considering the two women tasked with bringing her to life on screen. The comic relief and buddy duo of the picture comes courtesy of Edi Gathegi as sharpshooter Bill Pickett and RJ Cyler as Jim Beckworth, two men who are constantly bickering and having fun at each other's expense.

The team of outlaws that Nat Love puts together to take down Rufus Buck and the uneasy camaraderie they have is reminiscent of films like Young Guns or The Dirty Dozen and the stylization of the picture both cinematically and musically gave me some serious Tarantino vibes with a prime example of course being Django Unchained. Sure, there have been Western movies that include black characters in minor roles and there have been a lesser amount that actually feature black characters, but most movies from the genre, as popular as it has been over the decades of cinema, literally pale in comparison because of how whitewashed they traditionally have been.

Hollywood has been good at that sort of thing over the years, I mean making the entire landscape of a time period or genre seem like it was primarily populated by white people, unless someone was needed to fill a subservient role or expendable type character of course. Who knew that there were black people in the wild west days living their lives as outlaws or farmers or bankers and yet here we are now with a fictionalized historical record of people that really existed. This type of storytelling is very much needed to help create a more authentic representation of our past which will in turn create a more normalized sense of diversity in our future.

The Verdict:
The Harder They Fall is a beautifully filmed and creatively crafted Western that stylizes the genre in ways we've never seen before. What an incredible debut feature from director and co-writer Jeymes Samuel, this is easily one of my favorite films of the year.

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