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The Crack Magazine


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.

David Willoughby

Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm