There is something cutting edge about this debut feature from Jeymes Samuel that feels vital. It may tap into traditional Western tropes, feature beatings, gunfights, and hold-ups but beyond those mainstays sits a steady hand. Someone who has the presence of mind, clarity of vision, and wherewithal to throw out the rule book when it comes to narrative construction. Not that The Harder They Fall, released under the Netflix banner is hugely radical, but it is elevated by the sophisticated use of a primarily black cast.
From the outset, this feels like a film intent on redressing the balance in terms of cultural representation. Original compositions work in unison with reggae needle drops, while Western archetypes are acknowledged yet updated for a new audience. Meanwhile, Jonathan Majors stands shoulder to shoulder with Idris Elba, Regina King, and Delroy Lindo within this ensemble cast creating another essential element to that visual chemistry.
His Nat Love may be cool, calm, and collected but that hides a need for vengeance and retribution that threatens to unsettle everything. After star turns in Lovecraft Country and his introduction into the Marvel multiverse, this feels like another power move. Although Regina King’s Trudy Smith and Idris Elba’s Rufus Buck might get the stand-out scenes, Jonathan Majors shines bright. Some actors are made for cinema and there is no denying the presence he has on-screen. As the story unfolds and Nat Love becomes more and more conflicted regarding his moral and ethical path, The Harder They Fall continues to pile on stylistic flourishes.
Director of photography Mihai Malaimare Jr captures every close-up, embraces every camera angle, and makes everything feel cool. Wide-open plains, sun-scorched horizons, and pummelling hooves on arid earth elevate this Western beyond its rudimentary roots. Issues of identity are also tackled in amongst this melee of striking imagery, as director Jeymes Samuel addresses the elephant that is ethnicity with flair and panache.
Flashes of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone inform but never overshadow, while dialogue is ripped straight from the here and now. B-movies and grindhouse titles are also acknowledged throughout, as any number of references are thrown into this cinematic blender before being re-borne. But again, it comes back to that steely-eyed confidence, which sees these A-list character actors gather around a singular vision.
Other standouts from this exceptional cast include LaKeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, who is both eloquent and suave with a fine line in debonair one-liners. His calm head, cool demeanor, and crystal clear logic balance out the more brutal characteristics exhibited elsewhere. His performance also has the added benefit of keeping humor nearby, as this film switches tone frequently both visually and audibly. By carving religious iconography into his central protagonist, Jeymes Samuel is also upping the ante and drifting into allegorical areas.
By bearing the cross on his forehead Nat Love is turning an image of persecution into an embodiment of salvation. His Robin Hood demeanor combines with established anti-hero sentiments to transform that iconography into a symbol of change. A theme that carries through into other elements, making this film progressive both thematically and culturally within the confines of cinema. Although some audiences may consider the symbolism heavy-handed at times, it never detracts from a message which remains pertinent to this moment in time.
The Harder They Fall also manages to slam an adrenaline shot through the breastplate of an aging genre, jump-starting it with some contemporary references. Through a combination of powerful performances, pulsing soundtrack choices, and an extremely relaxed creative force, The Harder They Fall announces the arrival of a new voice. One that is loud, rambunctious, and libel to be a rabble-rouser.
In many ways, this feels like someone gatecrashing through the front door with no formal invitation. A fast-talking visionary backed by Jay-Z and Lawrence Bender, both men who know a thing or two about harnessing creative forces. Jeymes Samuel has shouted his intent from the rooftops, backed by a global brand with blank cheques to dish out to those with original ideas. In cinematic terms, he has offered up a revisionist Western, which savagely tips the scales back in favor of those who were lacking a voice until now.
On November 3rd when this film hits the streaming service, Jeymes Samuel will be one step closer to affecting that change. One that may see him become an advocate for progressive ideals across multiple mediums, as he strives to influence opinions and carve his own vision into the landscape.
This bombastic Western debut heralds a new voice in cinema.