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The Harder They Fall
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jeymes Samuel
scr Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
prd Shawn Carter, James Lassiter, Lawrence Bender, Jeymes Samuel
with Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, RJ Cyler, Ed Gathegi, Danielle Deadwyler, Deon Cole, Mark Rhino Smith, Damon Wayans Jr
release US/UK 3.Nov.21
21/US Netflix 1h20
Is it streaming?
Loud, stylised and loaded with attitude, this action Western pits two gangs of outlaws against each other in a violent series of gun and fist fights. Essentially a blood-splattered fantasy, the film has deeper resonance in its themes, while filmmaker Jeymes Samuel puts the focus on the snappy carnage. It's all strikingly well-staged with a powerful ensemble cast, but the mayhem almost drowns out the story's subtler meaning.
In Texas, a gang led by Nat Love (Majors) steals a stash of cash from the gang led by Rufus Buck (Elba) setting in motion a nasty tussle for power. Nat tries to find a way to diffuse the situation by teaming up with a US Marshal (Lindo), while Rufus takes over Redwood City, exiling its mayor (Cole) and demanding payments from the predominantly Black residents to save them from greedy corporations. But there are past scores that need settling, and the two crews are on a collision course that can't end happily for everyone.
Both Rufus and Nat have a loyal woman (King and Beetz, respectively) by their side who can fight with the best of them. And their other cohorts (including Stanfield, Cyler, Gathegi and Deadwyler) have vivid personalities of their own. While there are no good guys, the script sides with Nat's slightly less psychotic desperados, partly because we've seen in a prolog how Rufus scarred him as a child. Samuel has plenty of hyper-grisly nastiness to throw around before circling back to this important point.
Each actor finds subtlety in the declarative dialog, which is witty and gimmicky. Elba and Majors add soulful undercurrents as men who think before they shoot, even as they're both consumed with dark feelings. Their comrades are more trigger-happy. King and Beetz bring fierce edges to their roles, while Cyler steals scenes as the cocky Jim and Deadwyler packs a powerful punch in a strikingly clever gender-bending turn.
Much of the action is shot in eye-catching tight closeup to both reveal and conceal details. The ripping fight choreography is fast and brutal, and there are several terrific set pieces, including a storming train robbery and the witty heist of a bank in a literally all-white town. But by the time the explosive finale comes around, we're no longer surprised by the sassy speeches and sudden deaths. Much more impactful are the submerged ideas about men who fight each other instead of working together to change the world.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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