With a very prominent berth opening this year’s London Film Festival before a cinema release later this month and a Netflix launch in November, The Harder They Fall sees an insanely good cast come together to tell a story of revenge, home truths and proving you are capable of doing more than what is expected from your race and gender. With all that said, is is disappointing to report that while The Harder They Fall has its moments, its a bit of a letdown.
Part of this comes down to the cast. There’s some great work being done by Idris Elba here but considering he’s the chief antagonist, and a crucial underpinning of the film’s emotional arc, there’s quite the lack of him throughout proceedings. After a mysterious pre-titles appearance and an incredibly badass jailbreak sequence (a slow-motion shot of him walking through a hail of gunfire is the stuff an actor must absolutely dream of), he takes a backseat as he literally looks on while a lot of the action takes place. The film does set up that he’s essentially the big bad and having him appear in skirmishes thoughout may be a touch odd but the lack of his character does lead to a crucial moment at the climax of proceedings not having nearly the power writer-director Jeymes Samuel obviously wants it to have.
Jonathan Majors as our aggrieved hero just doesn’t work all that well, he has little in the way of swagger here and there are few moments where you actually want to spend the time with his story and by the end, it would be surprising if you actually want to see more of him, something the film obviously expects with its ending.
Part of this feeling is both a blessing and a curse for the film as he is rather blown off the screen by those around him. Regina King is absolute dynamite as Rufus’ partner Trudy, getting some fantastic moments and holding her on physically and intellectually. Zazie Beetz is also just a hell of a lot more fun than Majors as his on again, off again partner and when she’s in the driving seat for a portion of proceedings the film rather flys. Lakeith Stanfield is wasted but effective in his side role as one of Elba’s associates, Delroy Lindo is fun as an old Sheriff but Danielle Deadwyler makes a real impression as the keen to impress Cuffee, a character you’ll likely be far more interested in following by the end than the ostensible hero.
There are also issues with the film’s pacing. The first act is a bit of a barnstormer, climaxing in the aforementioned jailbreak, and the action of the third act is very well handled, Samuel showing himself as a man with a great sense of visuals and a deft hand at assembling some carnage, but with a well over 2 hour runtime, the second act feels very flabby with a video game side-quest feeling sojourn into a literal white town feeling like it was wanted for the joke of the scenario rather than for any real narrative reason. It is a film chock full of indulgences, most of which work, but the second act has got a few which really don’t.
It would be a very hard heart to say that The Harder They Fall doesn’t succeed at being entertaining, there are enough performances and moments to make you sit up and pay attention, but it is not the major success you absolutely will it to be. Jeymes Samuel has obviously got a future in filmmaking but I hope he does better than the very much style over substance which is The Harder They Fall.