THE HARDER THEY FALL is a fun enough movie and a solid feature debut for recording artist and short-film director Jeymes Samuel (aka The Bullitts). Produced by Jay-Z and starring some of the best Black actors on the planet working today (Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, and Delroy Lindo, just to name a few), the movie is a love letter to a genre that has been primarily dominated by Caucasians (and to a degree Italians) since its inception but told with an incredibly fresh voice, perspective, and style.
The soundtrack is amazing, coming from masters of music like Jay-Z and The Bullitts. But what really sells it is how Samuel can blend the traditional and fresh tones to give us a genuinely good modern-day Western that feels classic yet new. The plot, for instance, is a textbook Western-meets-Robin Hood tale, right down to the twists. And the slow burn nature of it harkens back to the good old-fashioned Leone films. But from an action and technical standpoint, the fast-paced and brutal action scenes, coupled with the stunning cinematography, costumes, editing, and attitude, make it feel more like a newer type of neo-Western. The cast is also amazing to watch, with Regina King clearly having a blast. Huge shoutouts to Zazie Beetz, RJ Cyler, Jonathan Majors, and the phenomenal Danielle Deadwyler too!
So why isn’t this getting an experience now, if I enjoyed it so much? Because, sadly, Samuel doesn’t know when to say “when” on his cuts and his story. As beautiful as the film looks, we spend way too much time on the glamorous music video aesthetics from time to time in a way that really slows down the story. For instance, there’s a beautiful but unnecessary tracking shot with a dancer painted in blue that goes on for far too long than it needs to, and it’s completely pointless. There’s a lot he could do here to have gotten to the point of this film a lot faster, but he insists on taking 50 steps more than he needs to narratively and aesthetically to get there. There’s also a subplot 2/3 of the way through the movie that really slows down the momentum of an otherwise strong (if not a little cliched) story. It has a point to it by the end of the movie, but it still didn’t make that subplot feel any less superfluous. He is an incredibly promising director to watch out for. But he absolutely has a lot more to learn.
Additionally, while the cast is good, the fact that you have heavyweights like Elba and Lindo really playing these supporting roles that don’t have too much to say or do seems like a bit of a waste for them. Elba is incredibly menacing and intimidating in a fantastic villain performance! However, a lot of the time, the movie has him just standing there staring out windows while others do the heavier lifting (acting-wise and action-wise). It’s not until the very end that his gravitas is felt and truly at its most impactful. The same can be said of Lindo – a brilliant actor who’s been in this industry forever. We know from movies like DA 5 BLOODS that his acting chops deserve long-overdue recognition. But he pretty much takes a back seat to Majors apart from the occasional line here and there.
That being said, I did find the film on the whole enjoyable. It’s a very good, very fun, very fresh Western that is way better than mediocre rubbish like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) but doesn’t quite reach the heights of brilliant modern-day westerns like James Mangold’s 3:10 TO YUMA or LOGAN, or Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED. Nevertheless, good Westerns are harder to come by than Best Westerns (yes, that’s a horrible hotel-inspired dad joke), and THE HARDER THEY FALL would still “fall hard” into the “good” category.
THE HARDER THEY FALL is now streaming on Netflix.