Director: Jeymes Samuel
Writers: Jeymes Samuel (screenplay by), Boaz Yakin (screenplay by)
Stars: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, RJ Cyler
So often, I feel the aim (and often “the miss”) in most films is to find material that feels truly unique, to uncover a stone not yet turned over in the ever-expanding lineage of stories. Yet, I believe it is often in the reinvention of the conventional, the seemingly ‘predictable’ narratives, where artists are able to illicit the best responses from an audience.
Instead of unique story, we have unique storytellers. Such is the case with The Harder They Fall, and this is no doubt why it succeeds. The story is a relatively conventional western revenge tale: a child left orphan by a relentless outlaw vows to hunt his tormentor no matter the cost. He’s accompanied by his Robin Hood-esque gang of thieves and a marshal to boot. The villain is surrounded by imposing threats each with idealistic desires of their own. And the face off comes to a head in glorious and bloody fashion.
The Harder They Fall is a bit of historical fiction taking real life heroes, villains, and the characters somewhere in-between, and embellishing their escapades to tie together in an epic tale about the quest for vengeance. The Harder They Fall is never trying to fool you, necessarily. It is unabashedly the story it appears to be bolstered by a truly stellar ensemble mainly encompassing some of the most illustrious black actors working today. The heroes are truly heroic in often gruesome, and occasionally blundering ways, and the villains are truly villainous, but only as a perfect reflection of their heroic foe counterparts.
“One bad day away,” is a phrase that no doubt comes to mind. With stylish direction that pays as much homage to Ford as it does to Tarantino, and a script that allows for the musings of life in the West just as much as the dark undercurrent of hatred boiling beneath the surface, The Harder They Fall is no doubt the biggest surprise of the year. So endeared was I to the characters and brilliant performances that I allowed myself to be completely blindsided by the film’s reinvention of its narrative, a devilish third act reveal that completely redefined the story that had made me so accustomed to ‘a simple western tale’.
Critics may scoff at The Harder They Fall’s conventions, lamenting that the narrative takes too many diversions into a burgeoning romance and contrives excuses to keep that romance alive. And that is a valid complaint. But The Harder They Fall proves, unmistakably, that a storyteller makes all the difference. No one is ever truly bothered by predictable narratives considering how much time we spend re-watching our comfort classics in place of new material. And sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective, someone painting with a brush that’s just a little bit broader on an already delightful canvass, for us to marvel at a picture all over again. 8.7/10