The Harder They Fall
- Emma Simmonds
- 7 October 2021
LFF 2021: Idris Elba, Regina King and Jonathan Majors are the stars of a refreshing western
'Times have changed, ain't they?' outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) tells a bank full of cowering white customers in The Harder They Fall. They certainly have if this film is anything to go by; it's an all-Black western, executed with ample style by the London-born musician-turned-filmmaker Jeymes Samuel (better known as The Bullitts), making his feature debut. In a huge coup, he casts some of the finest African American and Black British performers in the business.
The film informs us at the outset 'While the events of this story are fictional…These. People. Existed.' It sees Nat and his gang – which includes his ex, Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) – team up with US Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) to take on the man who murdered Nat's parents and marked him with a cross as a child, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Incarcerated as the film opens, Buck is sprung from a vault on a train by his own gang in a sensational scene that introduces us to Regina King's 'Treacherous' Trudy Smith and LaKeith Stanfield's smooth criminal Cherokee Bill.
Samuel gives us old-school western swagger with a dash of ultraviolence, while thunderous bass, hip-hop and soul enliven the soundtrack (which features Jay-Z, one of the film's producers). The often-extravagant colour is enriched by Mihai Malaimare Jr's sumptuous cinematography – when fellow saloon owner Mary sees Trudy's lavishly bohemian joint she turns green with envy, and the pair later have a dust-up amidst the brightest of cloths and dyes. The cast give it uniform conviction (as well as those mentioned, Danielle Deadwyler does great work as the androgynous enforcer Cuffee), but awards-magnet King is the inevitable stand-out, playing the merciless and unflappable Trudy. Sporting striking costumes which combine bowler hats, bandanas and gold hoops, whether she's facing down a train astride a horse, or menacingly peeling an apple you cannot take your eyes off her.
There's more than a touch of Tarantino to the film's smart-mouthed, irreverent and snappy style. If Samuel doesn't have his chops yet, give him time. It's a mighty confident debut and for a genre that regularly falls out of fashion it feels like a glorious reinvigoration.
Screening on Wednesday 6, Thursday 7 and Sunday 10 October as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2021. In cinemas from Friday 22 October and available to watch on Netflix from Wednesday 3 November.