Credit: OtakuKart

Review: The Harder They Fall

By Trey Kyeremeh

Trey dubs Jeymes Samuel’s feature debut a hit and the most exciting of recent filmmaking. Consider the cinematic bounty, hunted!

Like lightning, Blam! Blam! 

The Harder They Fall is sure to become a classic of our time.

There are a couple signs of a good film: firstly, you’re excited about every character that appears on your screen, villain, hero or witty sidekick. Secondly, you peep all the music in the background and suddenly every scene is coming to life before your eyes. Finally, you know everytime you watch that film, as is the case with a beloved franchise such as Harry Potter, it is going to feel like the very first time. This film delivers on all fronts and more. From rifle-slinging, horse-riding, shotgun-gunning, quick-drawing to gun-bucking, The Harder They Fall (THTF) is an action packed Western that ventures far out to great fruition. Director Jeymes Samuel has managed to create a whole new genre of film entirely by virtue of THTF.

“Director Jeymes Samuel has managed to create a whole new genre of film…”

The film is layered, from historical references to Dred Scott, a man who shook US history, to cultural nods to incredible men of contemporary generations, such as Chadwick A. Boseman and Malcom X. The historical grounding of the film does not weigh it down, but uplifts it even as the exposition of the movie reminds you: “While the events of this story are fictional… These. People. Existed.” Characters such as Jim Beckworth (RJ Cycler) and Monroe Grimes (Damon Wayans Jr.) will leave you laughing, and if you’re Black, smirking, from beginning to end. An undeniable fact attributed to THTF’s success is definitely its star-studded cast, but they’ve not just given you big names. Do not get that twisted. Every. Actor. Serves. Performances by Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield literally leave you hanging on every word, waiting in anticipation to see how their accented drawl will deliciously curl their next charming threat. Have you ever looked at someone with absolute fear and crippling admiration simultaneously? King and Stanfield execute this exact sensation through their performances of Trudy Smith and Cherokee Bill. 

While, in part, some of the plot is conventional: a traditional exploration of a son, Nat Love, seeking redemption for the murder of his parents by Rufus Buck (played by two actors, Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba, that command a screen regardless of who is around them) nothing ever feels predictable thanks to the engaging sensibilities of the protagonist’s charisma. Nat Love and his gang take you on a journey to determine what is worth dying for: money or love? Whilst Buck becomes another canon villain of complexity, understanding but with a vicious drive – very Killmonger-esque. And let us not forget the underrated gender-fluid character Cuffee (played by Danielle Deadwyler) whose performance consistently steals scenes; her mesmerising eyes quite literally pull you in, as the camera jolts into focus her perpetually emboldened expression.

“Nat Love and his gang take you on a journey to determine what is worth dying for: money or love?”

Let’s talk about music. Actress Zazie Beetz who played Stagecoach Mary Fields elaborates on the filming process, sharing that the music was “timed out with the dialogue and camera movement’”. That is why THTF  is so captivating; Samuels is a singer-songwriter in his own right and the film was executive produced by veteran-to-his-craft JAY-Z. The film is not just operated on by big names, artists mapping the game infuse it with nuanced vibrancy, from Ms Lauryn Hill, JAY-Z and Kid Cudi, to Seal, Koffee, Samuels himself and more. The music world of Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop and Spirituals tell this story and that’s what makes it so inclusive, including music and history of a defining but often forgotten diaspora. I’d dare call this project transcendent. 

“The music world of Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop and Spirituals tell this story and that’s what makes it so inclusive…”

Although the film does fall short in two ways: arguably the filming sequence lacks the fluidity needed to follow epic narratives. The story is solid, not hard to follow and punctuated by the soundtrack. You may notice unexpected scenes such as Mary’s entrance to Trudy’s Salon where a woman painted in blue dances around like a sprite. Yet, the scene is still so good. The other downfall, isn’t arguable in my opinion and that lies in the casting and performance of Stagecoach Mary Fields (portrayed by light-skinned actress Zazie Beetz). In focus, Mary Fields was a tough, six-feet tall, powerful, dark-skinned Black woman and the erasure of these phenotypes in casting decisions is a part of a negative culture of colourism and the eradication of dark-skinned, bigger women in the limelight. THTF is about bringing forgotten history into the light and through this decision they contribute to another form of erasure, one that will impact generations lacking a representation that is rightfully theirs and not constructed by Hollywood. 

Keeping that in mind, the project still shines in its cinematography, its costumes, its Afro hairstyling and the “unscrupulous shit” (said by King and Stanfield) these Black cowboys get up to will keep you glued to the screen. You ain’t never gonna get Regina’s confused in this one. THTF won’t make me backlog famous Westerns and watch them, but these Black cowboys in action will be a permanent new fixture as my favourite Christmas movie. 


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