By Mark Saldana
Rating 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
When it comes to promoting their films during awards season, Netflix has to be the master of the “hard sell.” The film production and streaming service seriously goes “HAM” with special screenings, physical screeners, coffee table books and other promotional items during the “for your consideration” push. In keeping with the times, the company is actually requiring at home COVID tests (for which they foot the bill) in order to attend theatrical screenings of their movies during this season, beginning with The Harder They Fall.
This really took me aback. Why would Netflix go to such lengths to bat so hard for a seemingly formulaic, but stylish and cool Western However, as I prefer to attend movie screenings in a theater over watching virtual screeners at home, I decided to play along. If Netflix is going to so much trouble over this movie, then it must be really good. Well, while the film isn’t at all horrible, it is definitely not their cinematic masterpiece either. Still, I will admit that I had a great time watching this movie and was well-entertained, but realized that my initial instincts were right. The Harder They Fall has much cool style and badass characters to boot; however, the film lacks a particularly dynamic story that truly sets it apart from plenty of other classic Westerns.
To the film’s credit writer/director Jeymes Samuel, who co-wrote with Boaz Yakin, do offer a delightful twist on the American Western–all of the main characters are Black. Samuel and his team have assembled an impressive cast of talented and popular Black actors working today. It is pretty much a “Who’s Who” of talents that are red hot in cinema and television right now. What is also refreshing is that Samuel and Yakin offer their audiences a Black, African-American perspective on the Western genre and do so much style and panache that feels inspired by the Tarantino school of Western filmmaking. This movie most certainly feels like the “bastard” offspring of Django Unchained. And as a director, Jeymes Samuel proves that he is no flash in the pan to be completely dismissed. He just needs a better and more dynamic script and story to bring to life.
The story mainly follows the life of Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), a wanted outlaw who once witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of a ruthless criminal. Now an experienced adult, Nat and his crew have decided to steal from bank robbers, as they feel that there is less a risk of getting either caught or killed. This plan, of course, fails when they happen to steal from Rufus Buck’s (Idris Elba) gang. As it turns out, Rufus Buck is the man who killed Nat’s father. As Nat has been slowly discovering his way to capture and kill Buck, this serendipitous moment gives him the opportunity to finally get his revenge. This proves especialy challenging, as Buck and his crew are some of the most notorious and vicious outlaws in the land.
I wil admit that I very much liked this movie. It is refreshingly unique in that the fillmmakers have refreshingly made a dominantly Black movie with finesse. And the performances by the amazing ensemble cast help make watching this film a worthwhile experience. In addition to Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba, who are fantastic as always, the movie features stellar turns by Zazie Beets, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Cathegi, Deon Cole, and Damon Wayans, Jr.
So, on one hand it is somewhat bewildering that Netflix would go so crazy over a fine, but not necessarily awards caliber cinema. On the other hand, it is commendable that they promote a lot of their movies this way, particularly during awards season. While The Harder They Fall probably won’t win any major film awards for this year, it is still a movie I can get behind for its entertainment value. Though it is currently playing in select theaters, it is also available for streaming on Netflix. My recommendation is avoiding spending money on expensive movie tickets and watch this one at home. You will feel much better about spending too much cash on tickets and concessions, and can simply enjoy the fun excitement and wicked coolness that this movie has to offer.