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The Harder They Fall 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Orphaned at a young age by the Rufus Buck Gang, Nat Love (Johnathan Majors) has grown up to form his own gang and has killed the last man who killed his parents while Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) rots in prison and now seeks to rekindle his relationship with former partner and lover Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz). Rufus Buck’s lieutenants, Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield) make a deal with the government in exchange for a pardon for Rufus Buck, and Buck and his gang head to the all-black town of Redwood City and remove the corrupt sheriff and former member of Buck’s gang, Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole) from power asserting the town under Rufus Buck’s authority. When Nat Love gets wind that Rufus Buck is free and rebuilding his power, Love reassembles his gang with Mary, Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) with help from U. S. Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) who’s mutually interested in taking down Rufus Buck.
Since appearing on the scene in supporting roles in films like Hostiles and White Boy Rick and the TV docudrama miniseries When We Rise playing Young Ken Jones, Johnathan Majors has slowly but surely become a major actor to look out for scoring leads in the short lived HBO horror series Lovecraft Country as well as appearing to strong acclaim in the likes of films such as Da 5 Bloods and The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Produced Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, Musician Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z), and frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator Lawrence Bender, the movie is the feature directing debut of musician/music producer Jeymes Samuel who supervised the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatspy and co-wrote the script with Boaz Yakin. The movie features a predominantly black cast and strives to be a stylish musically infused take on gritty revenge westerns and the movie certainly has all the right pieces in place to do so. Unfortunately while the movie has all the right ingredients, they don’t come together as well as you want them to.
Stylistically speaking the movie looks amazing, the cinematography and costuming is gorgeous with these very colorful western towns brought to life and integrated with an energized soundtrack helping establish its identity out of the gate. The opening scene where we see Nat Love as a child witness the murder of his parents by Rufus Buck is amazingly done because you don’t see Rufus Buck’s face as he’s shot mostly from the back or from over the shoulder giving him an imposing presence as an antagonist. When the movie does reveal Idris Elba about 40 minutes in where he steps out from the shadows in a well-choreographed train heist sequences that’s both tense as well as stylish it’s probably one of the best villain introductions I’ve seen in a modern western. The action is also quite well done with the impacts nicely conveyed and real sense of brutality to is given to them (especially a scene where Rufus Buck pistol whips a corrupt sheriff in front of a terrified town).
Unfortunately once the novelty of the style wears off after the strong opening introduction the movie becomes less and less engaging as it goes on. A big issue with The Harder They Fall is in its length because the movie clocks in at 2 hours and 19 minutes when it would be better served by being 1 hour and 40 minutes at most. The movie is a pretty straight forward revenge story, and while sometimes those can justify their length (such as Kill Bill Vol.1 and 2) The Harder They Fall doesn’t have the writing or character needed to justify its length down to the fact the movie manufactures a conflict with Stagecoach Mary doing a pretty ill advised action which leads her getting captured by Buck where Buck forces Nat Love to rob a bank in a white town (both literally and figuratively) which seems like it’s only there to stretch the story to this length. You can tell the movie is directed by someone with a music background because not only is the soundtrack often front and center, but several scenes feel like they’re one step away from turning into musical numbers (which actually does happen every so often) and while the look can sometimes be to this film’s advantage such as the colorful buildings that make up Redwood City, othertimes it becomes quite distracting such as the previously mentioned white town where everything, and I do mean everything is painted white in what I guess is supposed to be a joke, but it’s such a broad and exaggerated joke it feels like something that should be in a parody and not in a (somewhat) serious western.
Most of the performances are kind of lost among the style and excess of the rest of the movie. The one major standout who I thought gave a really strong performance was Delroy Lindo playing a fictionalized take on U. S. Marshal Bass Reeves and while the role isn’t written with all that much depth, Lindo gives the character this world weariness that gives some needed weight and investment to the film and gave the character a lot of credibility thanks to his performance. Idris Elba gets a decent introduction with a really strong train robbery set piece, but after that sequence he doesn’t really get to do all that much until the very end of the movie which doesn’t strike the emotional resonance it should. Johnathan Majors is serviceable as the lead, but he’s also not really called upon for any commanding moments where he’s allowed to own the scene and often is just sort of “there”. Majors’ Nat Love character has both a revenge plot as well as a romantic plot with Zazie Beetz’ Stagecoach Mary and neither Nat Love’s revenge nor his relationship with Stagecoach Mary really comes to a boiling point and feels like it’s stuck on a mild simmer more than anything else.
The Harder they Fall certainly is stylish and well made, but it’s also not as substantive as it needs to be to justify its near 2 and ½ hour length. I think Jeymes Samuel does have merit as a director and I would like to see him do another movie, but he also needs an editor that can keep his vision focused. There’s a strong performance from Delroy Lindo and some forceful fight sequences and if you are a fan of westerns or Tarantino films this might be worth a one time viewing, but I can’t really give it much more than that.