This is a gritty and compelling Western film that is compelling to watch from start to finish.
With his full length feature debut, director and screenwriter (along with Boaz Yakin) Jeymes Samuel has created a bold and engaging film that certainly challenges what a Western film can be in contrast to the many classic Western films that many people know and love.
The Harder They Fall follows the story of outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) who discovers that Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) who brutally killed his parents as a child has been released and so brings together his own gang to get his own revenge.
From start to finish this film is sharp and edgy, filled with characters who have been not only sharply written but brought to powerful life by a dynamic cast who keep the audience thoroughly invested in every twist and turn that the story takes. But in addition to this, while retaining many of the classic elements of a Western film – with numerous gun fights and even a bank robbery – it is given a wonderful contemporary twist thanks to the original music created by Jay-Z that heightens the sense of violence and menace that shines through the film, even if there is the occasional moment when it would be better to have dialled it back slightly to allow the scene to breathe a little bit more.
The script and story have so many elements to it that you can watch it numerous times and find something new to take away from it. While violence, corruption and revenge is at the centre of it, there is also touches of humour, loyalty, romance and friendship there as well. It is not often you find a film that is capable of drawing on all of this and bring it in so effectively.
But it is also the stylish way in which the whole story is filmed. Samuel really takes the audience as close into the action as he possibly can – by using a diverse range of close up shots and angles to make the audience feel as though they are living the story and experiences the characters are. This can be particularly seen during the more graphically violent and action packed moments (which have been well choreographed) that feel particularly vivid and intense to witness – to the point that it can be difficult to watch.
Perhaps it could be said it feels as though that there is on occasion too much emphasis on the violence and showing it graphically – which can distract from the story somewhat. We understand that the characters all have to do what it takes to get what they want but it feels overdone – particularly during one scene in which Rufus kills an innocent bystander for simply questioning him. It seems unnecessary to show how brutal he is to ordinary when we had already seen that elsewhere.
While the story is very male focused, that doesn’t mean to say that the female characters are hidden away and in fact Regina King provides a stand out performance as the steely and utterly compelling Trudy – a character who keeps the audience guessing as to her true intentions until the very last minute. It is wonderful to see a female character in a Western who is equally capable of being ruthless as a man can. Equally, Zazie Beetz is also a force to be reckoned with as Mary – the fight scene between her and Trudy is wonderful to watch, particularly as it is given equal billing as the men having their final showdown.
Jonathan Majors as Nat Love offers a wonderfully rich and emotionally complex performance that highlights the character’s changing fortune with great charisma – shown throughout the film but particularly during the climax. Idris Elba makes for a complex and compelling villain – yes he is a ruthless character but there are underlying reasons which I won’t spoil here but he gives the Rufus a deeper meaning rather than simply being ‘the villain’ and it is pleasing to see. But the entire cast work brilliantly together to make this film come to life in an exciting way.
Overall, The Harder They Fall is a thrilling Western film that makes you see the genre in a new light – if you don’t like Westerns generally you might want to watch this one it might just make you change your mind.
By Emma Clarendon
The Harder They Fall will be released in cinemas from the 22nd October and released on Netflix on the 3rd November.