London Film Festival Opening Night: The Harder They Fall
Director: Jeymes Samuels
Stars: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Regina King
The 2021 London Film Festival gets off to a blazing start with this supremely confident debut from British writer-director Samuel, a Western that nods to Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, but sports its own distinctive flavour.
The prologue has a devout family’s domestic idyll interrupted by a gang led by Rufus Buck (Elba channelling Henry Fonda’s inscrutable unblinking baddie vibe in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’) who murders the parents but spares their only son.
The child grows up to be Nat Love (Majors) a charismatic outlaw who specialises in robbing from other outlaws, but who is still obsessed with enacting revenge on Buck. When Buck is sprung from the authorities in a daring train raid by his gang which includes ‘Treacherous’ Trudie Smith (King), and soft-spoken, courtly sharp shooter Cherokee Bill (Stanfield), Nat rounds up his own gang - old flame Stagecoach Mary (Beetz), temporary ally Sherriff Bass Reeves (Lindo) and more - to take Buck down. Meanwhile the Buck gang have seized an entire town and claimed it as their personal fiefdom.
The script juggles a number of economically-sketched but vivid characters, ensuring everyone has their moment in the sun with the top-notch cast clearly having a blast. Samuel maintains a keen pace while delivering thrillingly-choreographed and thunderous shootout sequences. The eclectic photography combines deep reds and ochres for the interiors to sumptuous effect, with a witty short detour into anaemic white in the second act (for reasons that will become clear). A soundtrack combining hip-hop, dub reggae and spirituals with dashes of Morricone-style opera is deftly deployed.
The rich, dramatically satisfying climax in which the Nemeses have their inevitable face-off has all the power and potency of a biblical allegory.
The Harder They Fall is released theatrically on 22nd October and on Netflix early November, but really needs to be seen on the big screen.
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm