The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Harder They Fall
Director: Jeymes Samuel
Writer: Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
Cast: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Danielle Deadwyler, LaKeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Edi Gathegi, Damon Wayans Jr., Woody McClain, Deon Cole, DeWanda Wise
Seen on: 6./7.10.2022

When he was just a boy, Nat (Jonathan Majors) witnessed Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) kill his parents – and he has the scar on his forehead to prove it. In the years since, Nat has done everything to hunt Rufus’ men down, in the knowledge that Rufus himself is in prison where he is supposed to stay for the rest of his life. But Rufus’ companion Trudy (Regina King) and their son Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) have broken Rufus out – and so Nat knows that his quest isn’t over just yet. Gathering a gang to take Rufus and his men on, things are heading for a final confrontation.

I am not much of a Western fan myself, but The Harder They Fall is a stylish and very modern interpretation of the genre that I could absolutely enjoy.

The film poster showing the main characters in cowboy hats silhouetted against the sky.

I am probably one of the worst people to review this film, simply because I know practically nothing of Westerns, and I have the distinct feeling that this film references a lot and subverts more. I do know that Westerns have usually been a very white genre (despite the fact that many of the early cowboys were Black) – and it is a joy to see how this films opens up the playing ground for Black characters.

And it really is a film full of characters. Sometimes the sheer mass of people of note can get a little overwhelming, especially together with the plot that is convoluted (and supposed to be that way). But they are all distinct enough and all get their moment to shine that it still works. Special attention is afforded to Nat and Rufus, the central pairing around which everything revolves, and it is attention that pays off – they are intriguing and complex and engaging, with perfect performances by Majors and Elba.

Nat (Jonathan Majors) standing beside his horse, Mary (Zazie Beetz) just behind them.

But probably my favorite part was the production design – from costumes to sets, with a special emphasis on the latter. Arguably, it was a bit on the nose to have the Black settlement in all available colors and the white settlement in white only, but it is as visually striking as the (rather long) fight scene in a wool and fabric dying hut – to name just one moment of many that stand out visually.

Accompanied by a distinctive soundtrack, the design and the characters make the film feel extremely modern, with only a couple of moments that felt out of place in their dustiness (like Mary (Zazie Beetz) becoming someone to be rescued by Nat). Certainly the brutality of the violence and the way it is set in scene feels very current. Overall, it is definitely a take on Westerns that will also appeal to people not that into the genre in general.

Trudy (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) break out Rufus (Idris Elba) from his prison transport.

Summarizing: very interesting and definitely engaging.

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