The Harder They Fall (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A black western gang war

As an experienced moviegoer, I have several valuable standards for deciding whether I am really entertained enough by a movie, and one of these standards is whether my mind gets distracted more than once even while my eyes keep noting and absorbing whatever is being shown on the screen. If my mind continues to go somewhere no matter how well-made and well-acted that movie is, it is quite clear to me that my heart is not there for that movie, and then I usually come to mull more on why I am not entertained enough by that movie – and why I accordingly cannot recommend that movie.

And such a thing happened to me while I was watching Netflix film “The Harder They Fall”, which is incidentally not the remake of the last film of Humphrey Bogart made in 1956. Mainly because of the impressive array of black performers assembled for the film, I actually had lots of expectation after watching its trailer a few months ago, but, sadly, the movie, which is released in South Korean theaters before becoming available on Netflix early in next month, somehow did not engage me enough despite a number of fairly enjoyable moments generated among its main cast members, and I will soon tell you about how the hell I got distracted a lot during my viewing.

After flatly reminding us that its story is loosely inspired by real-life black outlaws in the Wild West during the 19th century, the movie introduces us to Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), a young notorious black outlaw who has usually preyed on other outlaws along with his own black gangs. Love and his gangs recently attack upon a certain other black gang group, and they happily snatch that gang group’s latest spoil after killing most of that gang group members, but it seems that they made a big mistake in this time. That spoil in question was supposed to be delivered by an infamous gang group once led by a ruthless outlaw named Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), and Buck, who has been incarcerated in a prison for years, will definitely need that spoil once he is freed through some shady arrangement between the US government and his trusted gang members including Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield).

Unlike others around him, Love is not concerned that much mainly because he is quite willing to settle his old score with Buck. As shown from the opening scene, Buck mercilessly killed Love’s parents when Love was very young, and Buck also gave young Love something to stay with him for the rest of his life. Love was certainly satisfied when Buck got incarcerated later, but now Buck is about to roam freely as before, and Love is determined to take a vengeance upon his old enemy for himself.

Nevertheless, Love’s close associates are already willing to stand by him even before he embarks on his journey toward revenge. Besides a cocky gunslinger named Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) and a taciturn sharpshooter named Bill Picket (Edi Gathegi), there is also Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), a young but tough saloon owner who has been the object of Love’s affection for years. When this feisty lady decides to join the group, she is naturally accompanied by her right-hand lady Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), and Cuffee is certainly not someone to be underestimated just like her boss.

The last member to join the group is an old sheriff named Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo). Although he initially seems to approach to Love just for warning to him a bit about Buck, Reeves soon turns out to be more reliable than expected, and he does not mind collaborating with Love and his gang members at all for catching Buck and his gang again.

As establishing its story and characters step by step during its first half, the movie humorously wields violence and brutality in a way not so different from the works of Quentin Tarantino and those countless following imitators. We are surely jolted by a series of viciously violent moments including the sequence showing how Buck’s gangs swoops on a train and then free their leader while leaving lots of dead bodies behind them, and we get often chilled and horrified by their callous attitude toward their victims who unfortunately happen to be on their way. Once he finally reveals himself on the screen, Idris Elba constantly exudes steely menace and ruthlessness, and Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield also did a good job of conveying to us their respective lethal characters’ cold-blooded sides.

However, the screenplay by director/co-producer Jeymes Samuel and his co-writer Boaz Samuel lets us down more than once around the point where Love and his gangs finally confront Buck and his dangerous associates during the second half of the film. What consequently happens between two conflicting groups is rather predictable in my inconsequential opinion, and the movie merely trudges from one expected narrative point to another while often being a bit too self-indulgent without much surprise, and I must confess that my mind became more distant and distracted as also occasionally thinking of how to make a fun of one of my old online friends.

Anyway, the eventual finale is well-executed with lots of bangs, and the main cast members are surely having lots of fun as gladly hurling themselves into actions unfolded on the screen. While Jonathan Majors is dependable as before, Zazie Beetz, RJ Cycler, Danielle Deadwyler, Deon Cole, and Delroy Lindo have each own moment, and I particularly enjoyed how Beetz holds her own spot in front of King as well as Majors did during his inevitable face-off scene with Elba.

On the whole, “The Harder They Fall” is not a boring film at all, and I appreciate its better moments including an amusing interlude scene which is literally white to say the least, but I am still hesitating to recommend it to you for becoming impatient and distracted a little too much during my viewing. Yes, the movie does have a lot of fun as rolling its wonderful cast members here and there, but I still wish I could feel more fun from that.

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