Bringing together some of the most talented actors working today to represent a Black revisionist storytelling from the western genre is one of those outrageous but surprisingly effective project ideas. Jeymes Samuel did just that with The Harder They Fall, and it’s one of the most talent-filled, ambitious films released lately.
Damon Wayans Jr.
(quite a stacked cast if you ask me)
I think the way that Jonathan Majors emotes on screen is one of the biggest reasons that he’s one of the best actors working today. Also, and I want to emphasize this, Jonathan Majors sings in this (??!??!!?) which was a very unexpected but welcome surprise. He sings a song to Zazie Beetz’s character. What can’t he do? Imagine what Twitter would do if he gets his first Hot 100 chart entry with this song. Zazie Beetz is another one of those actors who really morphs into whatever character she plays. She is perfectly suited to stand out among an ensemble cast such as this one. See her work in Atlanta and Nine Days as proof. The way she played off of Jonathan Majors’ character and how she bounced off of her co-stars solidifies how great she is in this film.
Idris Elba is brutal in this role. An actual savage. He’s fun to hate, though, so that makes him an enjoyable enemy. Regina King is a badass (in this movie but also in general). When is she not though? I don’t think she can help it. Delroy Lindo really felt right at home in this role, and it was especially nice to see him share the screen with Jonathan Majors again after their incredible chemistry in last year’s Da 5 Bloods.
RJ Cyler plays a mouthy young cowboy, and he is one of the funniest parts of this whole film. His character brings a unique sense of humor that might feel out of place in such a serious film at first, but it definitely helps bring the intensity down and offers up some funny one-liners and instantly meme-able moments.
I really enjoyed how Danielle Deadwyler brought her character to life and the way she was able to personify someone who doesn’t fit the mold. Damon Wayans Jr. may have had a short lived presence, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget how yellow and nasty his character’s teeth were. Props to the makeup and special effects crew for that one.
Visually, I thought that the colors were amplified perfectly, and every shot looked beautiful as far as color palettes go. The cinematography makes great use of close-ups, framing, and shadows. I really liked how the split screen usage allowed for juxtaposition in scenes, and those scenes benefited from it.
Taking traditional elements like a shoot-em-up, smoking gunshots, split screens, and deep zooms but using them in a modern way, felt strangely imaginative and brought new life to an often repetitive genre.
Ultimately, there are two groups of characters at play here that share a common thread, and you’re waiting on them to converge. You couldn’t ask for a more relevant and all-star cast to tell this story, and the way it plays up the traditional western elements by mixing in such great music choices and striking visuals make it such an intense tale.
JAY-Z and Kid Cudi sound really great together on their song (as if you needed me to tell you that, because duh, of course they do), and I could really see it earning a nomination for Best Original Song at the Oscars. The track plays over the opening credits, which should tell you how long they were because the full song had enough time to play from start to finish. This isn’t one of those soundtrack songs that only sounds good within the movie’s context either. It’s actually just a very good song, and the way these two artists bring together their own unique artistic styles was special.
Jeymes Samuel makes his directorial debut with this project (plus, he’s also a co-producer a co-writer), but if that wasn’t enough, he was also at the helm of the film’s music. These soundtrack selections make great use of a variety of genres, including hip-hop, rap, and reggae. His accompanying score uses instruments that are common to traditional westerns like piano and violin, but he has updated their instrumentation to a contemporary level giving it a different flair and style representative of the revisionist outlook that is evident in the movie’s all-Black cast.
Featuring brand-new songs by JAY-Z, Kid Cudi, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Seal, Koffee, CeeLo Green, James Lassiter, Alice Smith, and more (plus, a remix of a Barrington Levy song) made for a striking blend of hip-hop and reggae songs that are less than typical for a western.
The message of this film isn’t just, “what if Black people were in a western,” though. There is a nice bit of subplot in one storyline devoted to gender equality and representation that tied in a great conversation around those issues. It is also worth noting that females are historically underrepresented in such a male-dominated genre as the western, so having so many females felt especially important.
In a strange way, I found that the story itself doesn’t make sense until it does. I know that sounds stupid, but there is a very cool moment that takes place when things came full circle in a satisfying way that I hope remains unspoiled by others before you have the chance to see this.
The Harder They Fall is now playing in select theaters and will debut Wednesday, November 3 on Netflix.