Jeymes Samuel’s debut full-length feature film The Harder They Fall is a Western revenge tale, though one that is quite outside the usual boundaries of the genre. This is due to Samuel’s dismissive attitude towards genre conventions of Western films.
First and foremost, it is not difficult to observe that The Harder They Fall is Samuel’s debut as a director as structural issues are not too sparse, which is quite noticeable from a general sum of three categories: the soundtrack, the plot and some of the sequences.
The soundtrack, especially, makes the film more challenging to watch than it should be, resulting from an oddball selection of songs that, firstly, do not fit the style of the film in the least, and secondly, are irritating at the best of times and stroke-inducing at the worst. Most of the songs do not have any polish to them, furthermore, they are the standard tinkering that can be done by one single person sitting in front of a computer (and this is me trying to be as neutral as possible). Of course, not every single song is terrible, there are even one or two good examples that are integrated closely into a scene, but the remainder left me wishing I were viewing a silent film.
When it comes to the plot, cliché twists are not the rarest occurrence, especially for a Western drama. Moreover, some of the dialogue is quite simplistic and lacking, seemingly only in the plot to forward it. Furthermore, the story sets off quite fragmented and takes a tad too long to unfold, though this is not so much an issue.
Scenes are shot using non-inventive placement and movement of the camera, seeming a bit amateur-ish at times. Even if this is less bothersome in comparison to the film’s other flaws, it is difficult not to notice.
Now, this is the meta-twist of the film: it is actually quite well done.
Yes, the aforementioned issues are definitely way more than one would hope that any film of any kind would have, yet the strengths of The Harder They Fall are also just as strong, making it quite difficult to assess the film’s quality.
First off, the acting is simply great. Jonathan Majors is great. Zazie Beetz is great. Regina King is great. LaKeith Stanfield is great. Idris Elba is, obviously, great. It is amazing that not only gathering this cast together worked out, but also the fact that they fit their individual roles so well.
As opposed to some quirky set design, the visuals that Jeymes Samuel pulls off are simply masterful. Contrary to the genre’s usual vista, everything in The Harder They Fall is fresh-looking and fresh-feeling, from the environment to the costumes. This, of course, is not realistic in itself, but it is a unique take on the Western genre. Combined with comedic aspects that fit in surprisingly well, the absurdity becomes quite enjoyable. The revisionist Western space the film is set in, which is only barely alluded to, is yet another source of uniqueness.
Overall, The Harder They Fall is great yet terrible. Unique yet cliché. Quirky yet serious. Despite its self-inflicted confusion and being at ends with itself, The Harder They Fall is worth watching, especially for Western fans.