REVIEW: The Harder They Fall (London Film Festival 2021)

Harder They Fall

The opening gala of this year’s London Film Festival, The Harder They Fall is a classic Spaghetti Western with a few incendiary extra ingredients: all-star cast, stylised violence, pounding bass.

The feature debut of writer-director Jeymes Samuel1, the film recasts historical figures from the Old West as combatants in a bloody, stylised tale of revenge.

Nat Love (Jonathan Majors, a compelling as always with that smug smile and those sad eyes) leads a gang of outlaws – lounge singer and love interest Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz, a defiant bad-ass as in Deadpool), cocky quickdraw artist Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) in a double act with cynical sharpshooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) – stealing scores from bank robbers.

Love has a tragic past, though, and it’s about to catch up with him as U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo, gravitas and bushy ‘tasche) arrives to tell him that Rufus Buck (Idris Elba, largely coasting on charisma)2, the man responsible for killing Love’s family, is free.

Buck has rejoined his own gang, which includes “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (a dead-eyed Regina King) and fastest-gun-in-the-West candidate Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield, playing up the killer’s regret). They’ve reclaimed their old fiefdom, the town of Redwood, and are determined to make it a haven… at any cost.

What follows is tried-and-tested, but Samuel and his cast bring personality and polish to the pulpiness with every line delivery, bullet strike, freeze-frame, and song choice. The soundtrack includes new tracks by Jay-Z and Kid Cudi, as well as reggae3 and highlife hits.

Social commentary is inherent in the work, but is kept largely as subtext; 4 The Harder They Fall is not a film about the largely unacknowledged role of the black cowboy in the history of the United States5

Instead, it gives a promising first-time filmmaker and a talented black cast access to the Wild West playground that’s traditionally been the purview of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

They seem to be having a lot of fun. I know I did.

The Harder They Fall is due for release on Netflix on November 23rd, 2021

  1. Otherwise known as singer-songwriter The Bullitt, brother of Seal.
  2. Though an emotional final monologue gives him a chance to stretch his acting chops.
  3. Like Barrington Levi’s “Here I Come”, none better for characters striding out to, gun on hip.
  4. Though there’s one gag about a “white town” that would have seemed at home in Blazing Saddles.
  5. That said, I would like to see a movie about the real Stagecoach Mary, to whom the films’s incarnation bares next to no resemblance.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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