This year’s edition of the BFI London Film Festival opened with the world premiere of Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall. The film leads with the fascinating fact that while the story itself is a work of fiction, the characters are very much based on real-life figures. The notable Western icons at the center of the film are brought to life by a magnificent ensemble, which proves to be one of its key strengths.
Although, Jeymes Samuel’s feature debut is not without its faults. The Harder They Fall is very dialogue-heavy and could have left a little more on the cutting room floor as its length can be felt, especially in the second act. But, ultimately, this film does have much to offer through its unique characters and stylish visuals. Additionally, those who are looking for a healthy dose of action will be in for a treat with the sheer number of brutal shoot-outs and hand-to-hand combat sequences.
The number one factor that is bound to draw in audiences is the star-studded cast, and they do not disappoint in the slightest. Even though some are given more to do, there is not a single considerably weak performance throughout. Idris Elba does a sound job as the menacing Rufus Buck, a ruthless gang leader. However, at times Elba gets tangled up in a touch of overacting. The results may vary in these instances.
Like always, LaKeith Stanfield brings a certain liveliness and nails his part as Cherokee Bill. The leader of the opposing pack, Nat Love, is superbly played by Jonathan Majors. Majors takes the “less is more” approach with his rather subtle turnout, which really works when placed in opposition to some very colorful characters.
The wonderful Regina King and Zazie Beetz do everything they can with their respective roles, Trudy Smith and Stagecoach Mary, yet their lack of development comes down to the script. The two aren’t as fleshed-out or get as much time for a backstory like the other main players do, which would have easily uplifted their already admirable performances. A special mention goes to RJ Cyler, who many might know as Billy from 2017’s Power Rangers. Cyler’s comedic timing and delivery are highly commendable as he always manages to steal the show, even when pitted against some of the biggest names working today.
Considering the film was produced by musical legend Jay-Z, the soundtrack was always bound to be entertaining. And not only does it work in favor of the film, but it is absolutely phenomenal on its own. Every song is distinct and deals with a multitude of genres, completely heightening a range of scenes. Perhaps the most unforgettable is the mesmerizing title sequence, surely earning a spot among the all-time greats as it features a song from Jay-Z himself and the multi-talented Kid Cudi. The original music is so memorable to the point that it is almost painful to wait for it to hit streaming services.
As compelling as this Western tale can be, at times it can be overshadowed by a few technical mishaps. There are several moments where the sound mixing does not flow smoothly, resulting in some muffled dialogue. The majority of the film is visually captivating, using color and rompy sets to its advantage, except for certain sequences where the shift in grading feels rather jarring. Scenes are left looking washed out, a real shame given that others are exquisitely presented.
Visually and in terms of acting power, this film flaunts its cohesive vision. Yet, it is the narrative that lacks the most, perhaps someone to more clearly root for or a few more heartfelt moments to remind viewers that even though these individuals put up a hard facade, they are human at the end of the day. The ending does touch on this and isn’t as predictable as it could have been, slightly leaning into a specific trope, but all can be forgiven by the stellar acting on screen. Still, the desire for more of these powerful, sentimental moments throughout can’t be shaked off
In simple terms, The Harder They Fall is a classic Western powered by an eccentric story of love, redemption, and revenge – all coming together seamlessly. Despite its flaws, it makes for a pleasurable viewing experience. For a feature debut, Jeymes Samuel has bravely poured his heart into this film, which is ambitiously reflected on screen and worth a watch for a dose of fun and its stellar soundtrack above all else.