The Harder Way Fall (130 min)
Verdict: Swaggering but derivative
The 65th London Film Festival (LFF) got off to a great start at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday evening, with the world premiere of the Netflix film The Harder the Fall, a brutal western not to be confused with the 1956 feature. The name, which packed a different kind of punch.
She was a film noir about boxing, in which Humphrey Bogart gave his final screen performance.
It marks the feature-length directorial debut of British composer James Samuel, quirky enough in the stage name ‘The Bullits’.
One of the producers is Sean Carter, who also has a pseudonym: Jay-Z. And his film takes pot-shots at an overwhelming number of white Westerns, with black characters, if they are in evidence, tangential to the story.
It turns the tables as decisively as a saloon brawl. It’s a movie about black men and women, with some white walk-ons.
Jonathan Majors is pictured above in the film. This storytelling is clearly and often painstakingly indebted to Spike Lee, whose most recent film, the wildly overrated Da 5 Bloods, also for Netflix, starred both Major and Lindo.
The cast list is impressive. The lead is fast-rising Jonathan Major, but Idris Elba lends established star wattage, with LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King and Delroy Lindo in supporting acts.
And although the film begins with a caption telling us that the story ahead is fictional, it practically connects with a drum roll. , , In. People. was in existence.
Such intentional misuse of punctuation marks is usually My. Hackles. Growth. But at least The Harder The Fall set its stall early on, setting us up for cinematic trickery that included slo-mo, split screens, and other equipment especially loved by another director. Huh.
This story-telling is clearly and often painstakingly indebted to Spike Lee, whose most recent film, the wildly overrated Da 5 Bloods, also for Netflix, starred both Major and Lindo.
The opening scene gives the story its springboard. In a remote house in the Old West, a pastor and his wife sit for dinner with their young son. They are badly interrupted by a ruthless killer who kills first the wife, then the minister, apparently in revenge. The boy is spared, but has a cross inscribed on his forehead.
Idris Alda is pictured above in the film. The Harder Way Fall, as well as overflowing with clichés, offers a lot more style than substance
Years later, the boy with the cross turns into a terrifying outlaw, Nat Love (Major), whose gang is robbed of another gang from behind bars by the even more terrifying Rufus Buck (Elba).
When Buck is taken by train between the prisons, which is heavily guarded by soldiers, his retainers spring him. Now he wants compensation from Luv’s gang, but Luv has another form of justice on his mind, because yes, Buck is the man who shot his Pa.
Samuel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, hardly spares us a Western cliché as it all unfolds, from jibbering townfolk to ransom to the fierce tomboy on the draw more than any man. And each shoot-out gets a video-game body count.
I did enjoy some of the comic flourishes, and not unexpectedly, there’s a lively soundtrack, with some great soul and gospel music. Furthermore, the premise of filling a Western with black characters and sidestepping whites is undeniably topical.
But The Harder They Fall, as well as overflowing with clichés, offers much more style than substance. And Samuel not only wears his admiration for Lee on his sleeve, but also for Quentin Tarantino. We can all appreciate the originality of his film, if only it weren’t so blatantly derivative.
Still, for all my reservations about its curtain-raiser, it’s wonderful to see LFF people back in theaters with some top-notch offerings, especially with No Time to Die still doing its thunderous work at the box office everywhere. Has been doing. If you are in…