The Harder They Fall (2021): a scrappy mess, but still fun

This movie is tricky. First, the good: it’s got an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the cast (Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo). The soundtrack is super cool, and many of the characters get impressive entrances. The performances, as you’d expect, are all solid, with Majors shining. And yet… the movie doesn’t add up to what it promises on paper.

Which leads us to…

The bad: you know how you can have too much of a good thing? Well, this movie is an example of that. Cool music gets rolled out every moment the filmmakers want you to feel something. And so it becomes overused and a little numbing. Also, there’s an obsession with just how good the cast is — and so the movie just lingers on them when not a lot else is happening, hoping that just looking at them in their cool outfits will be enough to impress us. However, no matter how cool your actors are, they need to be given something to do. Make us care about them and root for them. I can’t say I really cared about the plight of Nat Love, despite Jonathan Majors putting in a perfectly good performance.

Ultimately, I felt like this movie was trying to do far too much, and as a result didn’t succeed in doing much at all. My test is, I ask myself: did I care about the characters, and their various fates? Not really, and not enough.

Was I entertained? In parts, yes, but it felt like the majority of the action happened towards the film’s climax, which you’d expect. But this left a huge middle chunk of the movie which dragged – and some plot points and scenes felt quite clunky. And despite the star-studded cast, uber-cool soundtrack and sweeping Western vistas, it still felt a little like an expensive pilot episode for a TV show, perhaps more so than a movie.

Which is the thing with Netflix movies. They want a series or a franchise or whatever you want to call it, so they try too hard. As a result they end up achieving closer to the opposite, simply because they don’t do enough with their first outing to deserve a sequel.

I felt the same with The Old Guard (2020) and a few others they’ve put out in the last few years (although it looks like The Old Guard is getting a sequel, which could fill in gaps the original never delved into). With these movies they’re basically not bad movies, they’re just not as great as you would expect or hope, particularly given the talent involved.

Perhaps like The Old Guard, The Harder They Fall will get a sequel and thus settle down a bit and not try so hard. It felt like it setup a bunch of characters I’d like see more of. Incidentally, speaking of characters I would like to see more of… Stagecoach Mary (played in this movie by Zazie Beetz) should totally get her own spin-off TV show – her life sounds fascinating.

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