Westerns often have a tendency to be slow-burning affairs, characters brooding amidst wide shots of vast landscapes as they either seek a bounty of treasure or revenge of someone who's wronged them in the past. Jeymes Samuel's The Harder They Fall is a Western about revenge that absolutely blew me away at the London Film Festival, becoming one of the finest offerings within the genre for a while.

When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge. Those riding with him in this assured, righteously new school Western include his former love Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), his right and left hand men hot-tempered Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and fast drawing Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) and a surprising adversary-turned-ally. Rufus Buck has his own fearsome crew, including "Treacherous" Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Standfield), and they are not a group that knows how to lose.

The Harder They Fall is a film that just oozes style and charisma throughout, both behind and in front of the camera. Jeymes Samuel has a background in music and has dabbed his hand in the Western genre before with the short film, They Die by Dawn, which also possesses an impressive ensemble cast and feeling more now than ever like a warm-up to the big gig here directing a major feature film. Samuel has an eye for style, honouring the Western conventions while bringing them through to a modern audience, without making it feel like a gimmick. 

There's plenty of substance to it all as Samuel concocts a narrative full of plotting revenge, which comes in spouts of brutal violence sure to cause the odd wince here and there, and writing some sharp dialogue in the screenplay alongside his writing partner, Boaz Yakin. Some Westerns choose to have minimal dialogue but not this one, the words carrying power with them as well as some humour that doesn't take away from the seriousness of the journey for Nat Love towards Rufus Buck.

Add to the mix the detailed production design from Martin Whist, Antoinette Messam's glorious work on designing the costumes and Jeymes Samuel utilising his background in music with a score that screams Western while again brining about a modern touch, and you have yourself one of the finest films of the year.

One of the best things about The Harder They Fall is the ensemble cast, each and every one of them having a blast and making it such an entertaining film to experience. It's great because it means every viewing could bring about a new favourite character or performance that might not have stood out before. On an initial watch, Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba were the standouts however, having the likes of Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo and RJ Cyler all bringing the thunder with their repsective performances just makes it a film that fires on all cylinders.

Experiencing The Harder They Fall in a cinema was a truly great experience so seek it out if it ends up playing near you. If not, then make sure you check it out on Netflix because this is hands down one of the best films of the year.

Verdict: ★★★★★


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