The Harder They Fall review: Idris Elba stars in ‘crowd-pleasing’ Netflix Western – Lewis Knight

Idris Elba, Regina King and Jonathan Majors star in Netflix western The Harder They Fall from first-time director Jeymes Samuel

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THE HARDER THEY FALL | Official Teaser | Netflix

The Harder They Fall

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The opening to The Harder They Fall reminds us that while the events depicted are fictional, “these people existed.”

Not only is this true in a very literal sense – many characters are based on historical figures – but it is also a statement of intent from the off – to portray a different section of Western society that does not typically get much representation in the genre.

First-time feature director Jeymes Samuel (of The Bullitts fame) and producer Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter have assembled a talented Black cast of actors in this entertaining, cinematic and bloody adventure from Netflix.

After a traumatic prologue, Samuel introduces us to the outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) as he reassembles his old gang, including on-off lover Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) to take on an old enemy.








Jonathan Majors and Zazie Beetz are lovers Nat Love and Mary Fields, respectively, in The Harder They Fall
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Image:

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX)



This nemesis takes the form of recently freed gang leader Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) – the man who killed Nat’s parents and who leads a dangerous group of killers in the form of Treacherous Trudy Smith (Regina King) and expert shooter Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield).

As various crimes and stand-offs ensue, a final reckoning awaits that could leave all the characters leaving this mortal coil.

But, does The Harder They Fall actually hit hard with audience members?








Regina King (centre, front) takes charge in a scene from The Harder They Fall
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Image:

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2021)



Firstly, despite its period trappings, the filml feels most modern in terms of its representations of ethnicity and gender.

It is rare to see an all-star, all-Black cast of leads in a Western and it is also uncommon to see the women in such a film play considerably active roles in the plot.

Not only that, but the cast all relish their roles and deliver even with some of the more cliche material and do so with aplomb.








Idris Elba is Rufus Black (centre) as he leads a gang that includes Treacherous Trudy (Kind) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield)
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Image:

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2021)



Jonathan Majors once again confirms why his star is on the rise, giving a hero with magnetism, sensitivity and texture.

Meanwhile, Regina King is also a standout as Treacherous Trudy, offering a formidable lieutenant to Elba’s quietly sinister Buck.

King also gets the scene of the film with a gruesome but captivating monologue delivered to a capable Beetz in her role as Stagecoach.

Elsewhere, an understated scene-stealer also has to be Danielle Deadwyler as Stagecoach’s comrade Cuffee, who delivers expert comic timing and sadness with her eye movements alone.








In a standout scene, Regina King’s Trudy tortures Mary (Beetz)
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Image:

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2021)



The landscape, as with all good Westerns, is also a key component, with sweeping vistas and colour pallets of sun movements helping to offer a stunning canvas for the players to explore amongst.

Samuels, unsurprisingly, also utilises music to rousing, attention-grabbing and shocking effect, providing a distinct style to the storytelling that does not feel so typical of standard genre entires. The music choices are diverse yet also cohesive which is no easy feat considering the genres he picks from.








Majors’ Nat Love is aided by Bass Reeves (Delroy Londo) and Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler)
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Image:

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2021)



A key issue with the film, however, has to be timing, for while clocking in at over two hours and rarely feels laborious, some sections could have been trimmed down and received tighter editing to maintain a more propulsive pace.

Yet, what is also clear is that Samuels has a true love for the Western genre. There are many story beats and character tropes that could feel repetitive or formulaic but actually feel like loving homages and remixes of classics of yesteryear through fresh eyes.

Verdict

The Harder They Fall is an entertaining new offering to the Western genre but one made all the fresher with passionate direction from Jeymes Samuel and a charismatic ensemble.

*The Harder They Fall is the opening gala film at the BFI London Film Festival 2021 and is released in cinemas on October 22 and then is released on Netflix worldwide on November 3, 2021.

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