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LFF 2021 Review: The Harder They Fall

Netflix’s The Harder They Fall, directed by Jeymes Samuel, has its World Premiere at BFI London Film Festival after the promising trailer was released.

Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) has dedicated his life to hunting down members of the gang led by the vicious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), who murdered his parents in front of him.

When Buck is released from jail by his associates Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) and ‘Treacherous’ Trudy Smith (Regina King), Nat reunites his old posse, including ex-flame Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and unlikely ally Sheriff Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo).

As Nat closes in on his enemy, it looks like his day for revenge may finally be dawning with several challenges along the way.

The film begins with an amicable family of three in Texas during the 1800s and 1900s, mercilessly broken by a mysterious assailant.

Camera shots showcasing the horrors and traumas inflicted on this clan set the premise quicker than a Cowboy’s fast draw, with bullets striking visual appeal.

The mountain-esque landscapes, barren deserts and Wild-Western town sets decorate the screen like silent witnesses observing the dark tale of vengeance that is to unfold.

I also really admire the crisp editing. From the titular fonts matching the action to the transition from each scene to the next, the movie works in a cohesive manner wherein pacing does not become an issue.

I will say, however, that the length could’ve been shorter and tempo does drop slightly during the second half as an unnecessary spinner is added to the narrative of the movie. As a Hindi film watcher, there are moments in the movie which feels like a 70s Manmohan Desai potboiler – especially when it comes to familial feuds.

When speaking about the technical aspects special mention goes to the smooth cinematography where action scenes are slowed down to enhance the drama and unlike Tarantino’s style of Western, it does not indulge in excessive gore and exploitation.

Moreover, the music fits perfectly with every situation. Even though the music amalgamated is contemporary in comparison to the period backdrop, the guitar sounds and renditions uplift the atmosphere, making it an ideal watch on celluloid.

The soundtrack also pays tribute to virtuosos like Barrington Levy and classics like “Here I come”, which enhances the nostalgic sentiment and providing it with almost a new identity of sorts.

Strengthening the film’s appeal are the powerhouse performances by Idris Elba, Regina King, Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors. This is Elba’s second time in the Western category and he does a magnificent job… Jonathan too is equally powerful. When they both appear on screen, it is an absolute treat to observe.

Each of the characters get developed candidly and layers to their rough backgrounds are developed well and gradually unravel throughout the movie. In fact, many of the roles are grey. There are no blatant distinctions between protagonists and antagonists.

A lot of the backstories are mentioned through dialogues and confrontation sequences with the principal character. Thus, it commands the viewer to listen carefully to the exchange of speech and body language of actors, which are sharp and solid.

Usually in Western movies, the female protagonists are often not given equal prominence as their male counterparts. But here, the women are not just mere ‘love interests’. Particularly, there is a ferocity with Regina’s role who is bound by loyalty rather than love.

Each actor delivers their part with such formidability that one feels the threat, thrill and (at times) humour so solidly. I’m sure many of these performances could even make it to the Oscars race.

Given that this is Jeymes Samuel’s feature debut, to make a film on a genre like Western is itself applaud worthy. He treats this style of cinema in such a fresh and dynamic way that it actually revolutionises the Western genre.

In addition, the fact that the cast and crew are predominantly black – which does not happen a lot in this style of cinema – is itself a huge benchmark and a trailblazer.

At the same time, it is quite thought-provoking that decades of such movies being made, only in 2021 the Black community has had its representation. Alas, after all these years of hardship and segregation the time to regain independence has arrived and HOW.

The Harder They Fall is an explosion of a start to BFI London Film Festival 2021 and an absolute enthrallment to watch on the big screen. Genre-defining dynamite of a movie!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Watch our interaction with Idris Elba and Regina King here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjryHgeYHZE

The Harder They Fall streams on Netflix from 3rd November.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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