Director(s): Jeymes Samuel
Writer(s): Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
Cast: Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield
Synopsis: When an outlaw discovers his enemy is being released from prison, he reunites his gang to seek revenge in this Western.
What do you get when you mix the directing styles of Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino? You get Jaymes Samuel, also known by his stage name The Bullitts. Samuel is a director with only one other film under his belt – another Western titled They Die By Dawn – but the British singer-songwriter, who is the brother of Seal, looks to expand his filmmaking scope by an exponential amount.
Backed by Netflix, this western is starring a remarkable cast. Oscar winner Regina King, Oscar nominee Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beets, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, and more all star in this Black Spaghetti Western that is as engaging in its performances as it is in its eccentric violence and humor.
The violence in this film is pure Spaghetti Western classic. The kills aren’t realistic, and are incredibly overblown, but that gives a sort of excitement to the action. There’s a want to one up each death and kill and some of them really do make you sit up in your seat. The humor of this film also works so well. Constant one-liners are pulled off so well, but there is one specific production and set design joke that will definitively be the funniest joke of the year, no question.
This film also has a very modern look and feel to it. Whether it be in the music or the dialogue, this is a film that knows what it wants to be, and is just that. This makes it much more relatable and easier to follow in the content. They trade historical accuracies for a good story and it works really well.
Which, The Harder They Fall never promises to be historically accurate, even going as far as saying the events that take place are purely fictional, but they do promise these people are real. That promise is what carries The Harder They Fall over the finish line. When the action and kills might become too much, the film leans on the skillfulness of its actors.
This remarkable cast is more than willing to take on that challenge. Every actor has their time to really shine, whether it be through the masterful fight choreography or the hilarious one liners. Lakeith Stanfield is one of these standouts as he delivers perfectly monotone and hilarious lines throughout. He is a killer who hates killing and a violent man who hates violence. His entire character is built on being an opposite of everything he is saying, and he plays this so well.
However, Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba carry the emotional weight of this film incredibly well. Majors plays Nat Love, who is seeking out the man who killed his parents, with so much conviction. He has one goal in life, and that has ruined all of the real relationships he has ever had.
His foil is Idris Elba who plays Rufus Buck, the man who killed his parents and carved a cross into the forehead of Nat Love. Buck is a brooding and powerful figure, and Elba, of course, plays that role well. For most of the movie Elba is fine. He doesn’t have to do much as an actor, and just remains this powerful figure many, except for Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), compare to the Devil.
But it is the last moments between Love and Buck that really bring out some powerful performances and moments between the two. Majors, face to face with someone he has searched his entire life for, learns something about Buck. To save from spoilers, I’ll just say that Elba and Majors provide for one of the best acted scenes you will see all year. Each actor and each character have come to terms with their outcome and nothing will change the ending. Majors is strong, but I truly cannot get over how good Elba is in these final moments, as he gives the best acting performance of his entire career in around 15 minutes.
The first hour or so does drag a bit as we are trying to set up the backstories and motivations for all of the characters, and the film might be a bit formulaic at times. Jeymes Samuel does what he can to keep these moments engaging though with some clever and impressive camera movements and scene transitions. Even if the film begins to get a bit tedious there is something that is always holding your attention throughout, and thats a testament to how clever Samuel is as a director.
Jeymes Samuel effectively brings a modern look on a Spaghetti Western. The cleverness behind the camera and the performances in front of it all help create one of the most exciting and explosive films of the entire year.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.