The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall ★★★★

This is one hell of a confident and expressive debut for director Jeymes Samuel, whose story takes historical black cowboys and outlaws from the Old West and tells a fictional story about them worthy of their legacy. It's a pretty typical type of tale that deals with revenge, romance, betrayals, and it has a nice little gut-punch surprise at the end too. Nearly everything about the film feels cool. It's swagger is obvious right from the start during its exciting and attention-grabbing opening scenes, and the stylistic energy stays high throughout. Some of the shot compositions are just frame worthy.

It also helps that the cast is phenomenal across the board. My personal favorite was a dastardly smooth-talking LaKeith Stanfield playing a fastest-gun type named Cherokee Bill. His charisma just oozes off of the screen every time he's present. But honestly, there's not a weak link performance here, though I wished simultaneously for more depth to each member of the ensemble as well as a slightly lesser runtime that eschewed some of its longer dialogue exchanges in the middle section for even more of its cracking one-liners. There's such a tribute to the music of black culture in here, as well, that at points you could almost call this a musical western. Hell, one part of the big climactic shootout (c'mon, you know it's coming) is basically choreographed to the soundtrack. It's practically Tarantino-esque in its modernization of a genre with bloody action, sprinkled in moments of humor, and sometimes out-of-place contemporary dialogue. The sound design is exceptional, too. Bullets and explosions have a serious thump. The film is just so much fun to watch. I had an absolute blast.

I do think Samuel's fiery and very well-written narrative could have used some tightening up, but I really don't have much to criticize at all and will be anxious to watch this again soon while crossing my fingers and hoping that Samuel just ushered in a new wave of westerns that can continue to revitalize one of my favorite genres.

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