Linda Cook review: ‘The Harder They Fall’ is a Western masterpiece

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Jeymes Samuel just became my new favorite genius.

How do I know he’s a genius? He must be, because he cowrote (with co-writer Boaz Yakin, “Remember the Titans,”) directed and scored the incredible Western “The Harder They Fall.”

It’s a violent revenge story with outstanding characters and a Reggae soundtrack I long to purchase but which, sadly, doesn’t exist – are you listening, marketing gurus? (Judging from his film’s title and music, I bet Samuel is a fan of the 1970s Jimmy Cliff cult classic “The Harder they Come,” and its Reggae soundtrack.)

This isn’t a true story, but the names of the characters might sound familiar to history buffs. Nat Love, Bass Reeves, Stagecoach Mary were real people, but they were not as they are depicted here.

Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”) stars as Love, whose parents are killed by Rufus Buck (Idris Elba.) Buck marks the terrified boy with a crucifix scar on his forehead (think “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”)

Nat grows up to become a gunslinger bent on avenging his parents. Rufus, in the meantime, is behind bars for bank robbery – that is, until Trudy (Regina King) helps him make a violent escape.

Rufus and Nat each have a bunch of cohorts. Rufus goes back to the town he once ran. We know there’s going to a reckoning, and the finale is explosive.

The terrific ensemble also includes Lakeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) as Cherokee Bill, and Zazie Beetz (“Joker”) as Stagecoach Mary, who still has eyes for Nat.

Samuel knows how to frame glorious shots on the wide screen in this tribute to previous Westerns, how to make eye-catching environments, and how to pace dialogue and music – often, these characters sing, but this is not to be mistaken for a musical – better than many other directors with vast experience. I can’t wait to see his next movie hit the big screen.

Maybe he’ll become the household name he deserves to be with “The Harder They Fall.”

4 stars

Rated: R for sexual situations, foul language and violence.

Running time: Two hours and 17 minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport, and on Netflix on Nov. 3.

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