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The Harder They Fall (2021) – Review: Director Jeymes Samuel Has Given the World an Entertaining Western

November 8, 2021

Quick Thoughts: Grade – B+ – Directed and co-written by Jeymes Samuel, The Harder They Fall is a thrillingly stylish western that features inspired production design, cinematography, and performances. It’s cool knowing that the characters are based on historical figures, and hopefully will inspire people to research the real-life characters. 

What makes The Harder They Fall so special is that director Jeymes Samuel loves the western genre, and wanted to use today’s technology to film jailbreaks, gunfights, bank robberies, and horse chases. The end result is a beautiful looking film that employs drones, split-screens and huge crane shots to tell the story of Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), a gunslinger who really wants to kill Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), the man who murdered his family. The cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. (The Master, The Hate U Give, Jojo Rabbit) harkens back to the days of the legendary Sergio Leone, who wasn’t afraid to let the camera linger on his actors faces, and was always up for wide open vistas and gnarly carnage. What’s nice is that The Harder They Fall has a distinct visual language that involves bright colors, close ups, zooms, and stylish centralized framing, which makes it stand out from its peers, but also wears you out, as the dedication to visual flourishes are nonstop. Also, kudos to Samuel and production designer Martin Whist (The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale) for creating White Town, which provides one of 2021’s best sight gags. 

The Harder They Fall centers around the showdown between two different groups of gunslingers ﹘who are both very good at killing people. On one side, there is revenge-driven Nat Love, and his associates Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler), two outlaws who make their money by stealing from other criminals. They team up with Love’s girlfriend Stagecoach Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz), her bouncer/bodyguard Cuffe (Danielle Deadwyler), and a Marshall named Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), who rounds out their deadly crew. Against them is legendary outlaw Rufus Buck, and his two partners “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King), and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), a man who loves to monologue and shoot people when they aren’t looking. Their epic battle takes place in a town called Redwood, and it involves explosions, monologues, fistfights, gunfights, and more explosions. It’s a wildly violent brawl that relishes in exploding heads that spray copious amounts of blood and the killing of dozens of henchmen who should know better than to stand in the way of Delroy Lindo. 

You can tell that Samuel pulled from his background as a musician and music video director, as the soundtrack is loaded with excellent songs (the opening Kid Cudi/Jay-Z is solid), and it shows that he learned a lot from his time as the executive music supervisor on the Baz Luhrman directed The Great Gatsby (2013). There’s a lot of style in this film, and it’s propelled by musical performances and songs that prove to be very memorable. 

In the end, every performance is solid, and it’s clear why the actors signed up for the film (they get to look awesome). But, their characters represent more style over characterization, which is fine, but they don’t necessarily prove to be endearing, or overly memorable aside from some well-shot moments that frame them in interesting ways (watch the trailer, you’ll see). It’s easy to understand why the film is the way it is, but the focus on the tone and style takes away from focusing on, or creating memorable characters. 

Final thoughts:The Harder They Fall is a lot of fun, and if you are a fan of stylish westerns, you will love this movie.

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