The Harder They Fall (Film Review)

Director: Jeymes ‘The Bullitts’ Samuels

Cast: Idris Elba, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, Danielle Deadwyler, RJ Cyler

When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers his nemesis Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) has been sprung from prison, he rounds up his gang — Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz), Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) — to track Buck down to wreak revenge for the murder of his parents.

If the explosion of caped-crusaders and CGI-wizardry relegated the Country Western to the position of ‘forgotten box office giant’, then The Harder They Fall is the genre’s all guns-blazing return. Powered by the Netflix machine, everything about Jeymes ‘The Bullitts’ Samuels’ full-length debut feels expensive and flashy.

This wildly entertaining reimagining of American history sees outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discover that Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) — the man who executed both of his parents and brutally branded Nat with a scalpel — has been freed from incarceration. Both men set out on a collision course, leaving enough bloodshed in their wake to make an abattoir blush. Through a series of stylish Tarantino-esque cutaways the rest of the ensemble cast are unveiled, none more memorable than the first appearance of “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) at the scene of a train heist. The duo are an unlikely but electric pairing.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this tale, only those who exist outside of the confines of the law. This is a world where no character is adverse to inflicting violence; and diplomacy and pleasantries play second-fiddle to gun bucks to the head and Mexican standoffs.

However, marvelling (or cowering away in fear) at the film’s ultra-stylised gore would be to miss its true focus, the people committing the acts. Building on his previous work (‘THEY DIE BY DAWN & Other Short Stories’), Director Jeymes ‘The Bullitts’ Samuel (brother of grammy-winner Seal) puts the pistol firmly in the hand of the Black Americans in the Old West so often marginalised in Hollywood history – a third of cowboys were Black and took on the lifestyle in search of a better life after being freed from slavery.

Despite featuring a predominantly Black cast, The Harder They Fall stays rooted in the familiar tropes of the genre (religious iconism, good vs evil rather, etc) rather than race and in doing so, normalises what should already be normal.

Instead, Samuel trusts you to read between the lines. In a defiant attempt to resist a newly imposed income tax, a citizen of Redwood tells Treacherous Trudy that it would put the townspeople between “a rock and a hard place”, to which she staunchly replies, “How long have you lived in this country? A rock and a hard place is what we call Monday!”

Cleverly dubbed the ‘New West’, The Bullitts presents a version of the Western fit for modern day consumption, with an exhilarating soundtrack to match. Whilst rapper Jay Z – who also has producer credits – and Kid Cudi contribute the aptly named ‘My Guns Go Bang’ to the opening sequence, this is a sonic experience crafted by one man. Writing, directing, producing and probably even loading the shotguns between each take, The Bullitts’ fingerprints are everywhere, with playful flips of Reggae and Highlife classics like Barrington Levy’s ‘Here I Come’ and Fela Kuti’s ‘Let’s Start’ along with his own music.

Witty dialogue and thoughtful touches like an end of credits tribute to the late Michael K Williams add warmth to a film where passionate romance between Nat Love and Mary Fields gets lost amongst the gunpowder.

Packed with style, charm and a barrel-full of shrapnel for good measure, The Harder They Fall will still be standing when the smoke clears. The Bullitts doesn’t miss.

4 Out Of Five Barz

Do You Think That This Will Be The Big Return Of Westerns? How Do You Think The Film Stands Up Against Some Of The Cast’s Previous Work? Will You Be Rushing To Rewatch It Or Is Once Enough?

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