Review by Sean Boelman
The Revisionist Western can be an extremely fun genre, taking familiar tropes and doing something exaggeratedly stylish with them. Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall may not have a lot of substance to it, but it more than makes up for that fact with an abundance of style and some great performances by its A-list cast.
The film tells the story of an outlaw who discovers that his archenemy has been released from prison, causing him to form a posse to take him down. It’s a pretty simple revenge storyline — the protagonist has one of the most basic motivations there is to have — but there are so many layers of added convolution to it that it seems more complex than it is.
Admittedly, there is a portion of the movie that is basically pointless. The second act serves as little more than a bridge to connect the exposition of the first third with the action-packed finale. That said, the heist is so much fun to watch, and by that point the audience will be invested enough in the story and characters, that even this seemingly unnecessary portion flies by.
It is the action sequences that are undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film. The entirety of the movie builds up to the brutal and exhilarating conclusion, and it delivers. However, the shorter action sequences that come early in the film are also great and will have viewers enjoying themselves even with the smaller scale.
If nothing else, Samuel’s movie is stylistically consistent. It’s a very over-the-top film in almost every sense of the word, with bursts of brutality and bright colors galore. Additionally, the soundtrack (much of which is anachronous) can be very overbearing at times. However, since the movie knows exactly what it is, this doesn’t keep it from working.
Something that makes Samuel’s approach unique is that it is a historical fiction with real historical figures as some of the characters. The film goes into the myths and legends that have grown around some of these people and their stories and expands upon them in a refreshing way. Even if the arcs don’t have that much depth, the audience can still buy into the characters.
The acting in the movie is also very strong. Jonathan Majors kicks total ass in his role as the Western hero. Idris Elba radiates coolness as the antagonist. And in supporting roles, Lakeith Stanfield, Regina King, and Delroy Lindo are all clearly having the time of their lives, which translates extremely well.
The Harder They Fall might not be the most nuanced or complex film, nor does it have much of a reason to exist beyond pure entertainment. But it’s a ton of fun to watch, and that is more than can be said about a lot of movies these days.
The Harder They Fall is now in theaters and hits Netflix on November 3.