The Harder They Fall (2021) Jeymes Samuel.
This film is marketed as a western, but it is more than that; to me ‘The Harder They Fall’ defies true genre definition. It is a hero’s journey, a family story set across multiple towns, and an intimate portrayal of love.
This is the film, dressed as a western, that I needed.
The work of Jeymes Samuel as writer, director, and producer is genius.
The script, soundtrack, cinematography, costume, scenery. All of it is a work of genius.
The Rufus Buck Gang, led by the acting giant Idris Elba, appears to have the upper hand over the Nat Love Gang, and The Crimson Hood Gang however films with a western sensibility are all about rapid shifts in power at the end of a bullet. Rufus Buck is a man on mission, to be an example for others to follow by living large and free in plain sight in the promised land, his own Redwood City.
This is therefore a thank you letter to Jeymes Samuel et al., I’ve waited a long time for this story. The actors, one and all, were a pleasure to see on screen. The casting was spot on. I won’t detail all the cast, however I will mention a few:
Regina King as Trudy Smith was outstanding, as usual. One of a number of strong female characters that made my heart sing in recognition of those who have gone before us. Direct, purposeful, answerable to herself. So much of King’s power is shred through subtle movements of her eyes, a slight incline of her head, a pointed finger: she has an assured presence that is enhanced by her silence and sparse gestures.
Zazie Beetz was the perfect female foil to King’s character with her representation as Stagecoach Mary Fields – they recognise the power and status in each other. Mary Fields is an entrepreneur and a self motivated leader, she say to The Nat Love Gang, “What y’all waiting around for? You think destiny is comin’ to you?” She writes her own future, no one owns her, she is the only one who gives herself permission to act.
Delroy Lindo is Delroy Lindo who adds a certain gravitas and authenticity to anything he chooses to appear in. When he says, “I’ve seen the Devil, and Rufus Buck ain’t him. Devil’s white”, you know he’s speaking as Marshal Bass Reeves, Delroy Lindo, and a multitude of people who have faced what he has.
LaKeith Stanfield, who I’m not usually a fan of, seemed to shine in this role as Cherokee Bill, as if he’s been waiting for it to appear: it fit him like a glove. In my opinion, it is his finest performance yet as he delivered his dialogue with pristine aplomb.
Deon Cole also surprised me with the emotional range he brought to his character – more breadth than I’ve seen in his many previous appearances on screen.
The characters were all strong. Every one of the main characters had their own history, their own dreams, and their own demons yet this did not prevent great moments of humour where I laughed out loud.
For example, the contrast of the strong, vibrant colourfulness the Redwood City, and also of Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) and Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) as they ride into Maysville (It’s a White Town) where the images that arrest you are the uniform blandness of the town that is stocked with crates of white ivory soap, The Diablo saloon, and the Latin motto on the bank door that invites a show of strength to gain rewards: ‘he who has rules makes gold’.
The soundtrack was surprising and phenomenal: every individual track added to the texture and depth of the story, bringing in threads of different histories through each beat to make a beautiful audio tapestry. Many of my favourite moments of recognition included the musical nods to Black Panther (2018) and specify to Chadwick A. Boseman in particularly tense moments.
The soundtrack feels like a warm blanket on a cold day, and then there’s the whistling … that addition deserves an essay to itself.
I’m one of those cinema goers who stays to the end of all the credits, and then rise slowly and thoughtfully, however, when the last beat and the last frame appeared I did not switch off, instead I rewound the film and started all over again. It is gripping and satisfying. It deserves multiple viewings.
I feel sated.
I’m looking forward to more, especially featuring Regina King, as indicated by the last pre-credits frame.
The Harder They Fall
These. People. Existed.