Sunday, January 16, 2022

Review of The Harder They Fall: Black Western

The Times aims to analyze theater releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since going to the movies is risky during this time, we remind readers to follow the health and safety guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities.

“Although the events of this story are fictional … These. People. There was. ” So, “The Harder They Fall” begins with an intriguing production and punctuation sharp enough to know you’re looking at (ahem) an old picture. And, as if it came from all these points, this historical Western fantasy unfolds in its own disorienting rhythm of stops and stops. When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) settles scores in the opening moments, he shoots his man four times and triggers four blood-soaked freezes, each containing a word from the film’s fatalistic title.

Dramatically, Nate is the most significant of those factual, fictional shooters, a Black Cowboy legend who was born in 1854 to enslaved parents on a plantation in Tennessee. co-writer Boaz Yakin told their Nat a completely different, albeit no less traumatic, origin story. As a young boy (played by Anthony Naylor, Jr.), he loses his family in spectacularly brutal ways, setting in motion a drawn-out plot of revenge; years later, he and his loyal gang find themselves tracking down his parents’ murderer, the brutal criminal Rufus Bak (Idris Elba). Rufus works with his own gang, only one bigger, more hideous and heavier than the Hollywood royals.

Regina King (second from left) and Zazie Beats (second from right) in The Harder They Fall.

(David Lee / Netflix)

Not that The Harder They Fall, which opens in theaters this week ahead of its November 3 release on Netflix, tends to lack celebrity. Its large line-up, recently announced as a Gotham Awards winner, creates a stunning confrontation between established stars and celebrities in the making. Lakeith Stanfield delves into a new depth of silky sotto voce as Cherokee Bill, the fastest of the fast-moving painters. Regina King plays in a bowler hat as Gertrude “Treacherous Trudy” Smith, who is not much slower. (Her first act here is killing a white man before he can finish uttering the racist epithet.) As the best players in Rufus Buck’s gang, they are an extremely attractive villainous couple, with a bad cop / bad cop routine, which is good for a few nauseating chuckles before starting. murder.

Among their enemies on the side of the Nat Love Gang is the unstoppable Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler), who shoots almost as well as shoots out of the mouth, and who maintains pleasant squabbles with loyal companion Bill Pickett (Edie Gathegi). Stone-eyed Zazie Beetz throws a fist and brandishes a rifle as a stagecoach to Mary, who in real life was the first black woman to work for the US Postal Service; here she was squeezed into the less interesting role of Nat’s former love interest. Another real pioneer is US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, although his accomplishments are hinted at rather than explained in the charismatic growl of Delroy Lindo’s speech.

This motley but dependable team is brought together by Nat, played with a cunning, low-key wit by the Majors, who rose to prominence in indie cinema in The Last Black Man in San Francisco and recently received an Emmy nomination for Lovecraft Country. What this HBO series did for Jim Crow-era horror / science fiction is more or less close to what The Harder They Fall means for a 19th-century western: to capture the long, rich and often hidden threads of black history. and restore them, if necessary, by creative means to the genre from which they were promptly removed. Revenge may drive the narrative driving force of this film, but Samuel is aiming for a different cinematic restitution (a process that began with his 2013 Western They Die at Dawn, a 51-minute test drive for this project).

A woman and two men on the street of a western city in the film "The harder they fall."

Regina King, Idris Elba and Lakeith Stanfield in The Harder They Fall.

(David Lee / Netflix)

Fans of this uplifting anti-historical revisionist meta-film may notice the superficial influence of Quentin Tarantino in Samuel’s love of 12-letter abuse, flamboyant filming techniques, and muted rhythms that alternate between long stretches of dialogue and outbursts of violent violence. But the controversy and skepticism that greeted the Tarantino race in a powder keg are unlikely to surface here. Unlike, say, Django Unchained, The Harder They Fall does not make the slightest narrative concession to whiteness; The action takes place after the abolition of slavery, and in it white characters are not seen as villains who abduct scenes, but as clumsy non-entities. (They’re also the butt of a sharp visual joke, which I won’t spoil here, other than credit for the ingenuity of Martin Vista’s stage design.)

Meanwhile, old school moviegoers will have fun celebrating homage to a significant but little-known canon of black westerns such as Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the Preacher (1972), whose bank robbery scene elicits a playful echo here, and Mario Van Peebles’s Posse (1993) , who made his own stellar adjustment to the genre’s snow-white history. But “The Harder They Fall” has its own vibrant modern sensibility, which manifests itself in the vibrant digital brilliance of Mihai Myalaimare Jr.’s imagery and the various musical idioms used by Samuel, better known as a songwriter and musical performer. produced by The Bullitts. Working with Sean Carter, also known as Jay-Z (who is considered a producer), he weaves in several well-selected Afro-Caribbean and hip-hop tracks that brilliantly strip us of the classic Western soundscape.

These aesthetic pleasures bring constant excitement. I wish there were enough of them to make The Harder They Fall as good as its intentions deserve, to carry it through its scattered sections and dynamics. I tried not to go into the details of the plot, mainly to avoid repeating the mistake of the film, but it plays like a cluster of familiar scenery – an epic train robbery, several bank robberies and a few bloody street fights. The path to a climactic shootout that complicates the surface of a rather simple, even simplistic gang-versus-gang scheme. And with so many real figures vying for attention, deviations from historical data rather than freeing the film’s imagination end up feeling oddly arbitrary. Of course, the truth (or something close to it) about who these men and women were should have been more fascinating and more worthy of mythology than what appears in this stretched mashup.

There are exceptions, most memorable than Cuffy (the fiercely expressive Danielle Deadweiler), an accomplished fighter inspired by Kathay Williams, who is known to have passed herself off as a human and enlisted in the US Army. Along with the Nat Love Gang, Caffi is the character who least meets expectations and, perhaps for this reason, the one who fully meets them. She reminds you of all the stories that haven’t yet been told, and leaves you wishing she could tell more time in this thrilling, impactful, choppy film.

‘The harder they fall’

Rating: R, for strong violence and language

Duration: 2 hours, 17 minutes

Plays: Released October 22 in limited edition; also available November 3rd on Netflix

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