There is nothing from Bogart’s here. Well, there is the name, that is indeed identical. In 1956, another The Harder They Fall was released, directed by Mark Robson (Peyton Place, Von Ryan’s Express). In that Humphrey Bogart plays a former sportswriter who ends up entangled in a scam around a boxer. But the truth is, I don’t know why I am making this preamble to you if, other than the name, nothing is relevant to this film. The one from now takes us to the old American West stylized to the rhythm of reggae and presents us with a story of revenge archetypal of the western.
Director Jeymes Samuel distorts the codes of the genre by betting on a social discourse that emphasizes African American representation and establishes them as the reference figures. The idea of breaking with the stereotype is supposed as a kind of cry for independence, an attempt to fix a position. The colored cowboy is as capable or more capable than John Wayne and the woman is not just a cabaret attraction. It is in these lines that the director sets up the social background of his story beyond the obvious chronicle of revenge.
There will not be peace for the evil ones
The first sequence takes us fully into the story and its central knot. The family that is assaulted and massacred before the stunned gaze of the smallest offspring. Impossible not to suppose homage to the legendary Once Upon a Time in The West (1968). Then the script co-written by Boaz Yakin (The Punisher, Now You See Me) and the director himself rushes to introduce us to the characters in a very showy way. From that Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) to his nemesis Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) they all make their triumphant entrance to slow motion, close-ups, and perfectly choreographed action sequences.
Nat Love’s gang only lives and breathes to take down Rufus Buck’s gang. This Nat is driven by revenge and a sense of justice measured by his need to take revenge for the death of his parents. To the beat of his revolver the script breaks through and one action sequence after another falls. It is in that visual spectacle where The Harder They Fall reaps the best fruits; the ground becomes less fertile when we begin to crumble those characters. In the same way, the film does not resist using clichés as an escape route and a method of conflict resolution, which ends up reducing the strength of the story.
For director Jeymes Samuel this is the second visit to the western after his debut in They Die by Dawn (2013), a genre that he is truly passionate about and that he has wanted to bring closer to the African American community. The visual style and music work very well with the narrative tone that Samuel decides to use. Everything is for that majestic staging and the shootings at the hands of prodigious gunmen. That is the world of The Harder They Fall and if we get out of those margins there is little we will find.