By Lynn Venhaus
A good-looking film with a kicky soundtrack, “The Harder They Fall” comes across as a bloody western shot like a music video.

It’s no surprise, because first-time director Jeymes Samuel, a music producer and singer-songwriter known as The Bullitts, is a protégé of Jay-Z and worked with him on “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack for director Baz Luhrmann. Under his real name, Shawn Carter, Jay-Z is one of the film’s producers.

Samuel demonstrates an appealing slick style, but sadly the well-worn story lacks substance. Co-written by veteran screenwriter Boaz Yakin and Samuel as a tale of revenge and robbery, it’s merely ordinary – without much character development, squanders the talents of its extraordinary cast that includes solid-gold Idris Elba, Regina King and Delroy Lindo, with rising stars Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz and LaKeith Stanfield, who just gets better with every role.

The lethal shoot-outs and blood-spurting showdowns, an integral part of the western genre, are repetitive and do little to advance a gripping story. Overall, the plot is run-of-the-mill, mostly predictable, except for the third act revelation.

It’s unfortunate because you want to root for this type of new western that spotlights black cowboys. Supposedly, on the western frontier, one in four cowboys were black, and they haven’t been given proper due in America’s history on ‘go west’ and the great migration.

In the beginning, the director states that the story is fiction, but the people existed. Most of the action takes place in Redwood City, which was a primarily black community.

Faring well in this film are emerging stars Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee, who identifies as him and would like a career in law enforcement, and Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, a young trigger-happy hotshot.

RJ Cyler has a solid turn as sharpshooter Jim Beckworth as does Deon Cole as Wiley Escoe, but it is Majors’ film. His outlaw Nat Love, no matter how many times he’s intimidated or dismissed, is driven and relentless.

Playing a man of few words who acts quickly, Elba’s physicality is felt throughout, a foreboding presence from the opening scene where he takes down a family, to breaking out of chains in prison stripes, and then as a feared frontier gang leader.

An interesting twist is how fierce the women are – Regina King as “Treacherous Trudy” and Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary. They take the bullets out of their guns and use their fists and hand-held weapons for a rip-roaring knock-down drag-out brutal fight.

With its attractive production elements, the movie benefits from cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.            ‘s framing of these newly constructed towns, showcasing the period production design by Martin Whist, with editing by Tom Eagles. The violence is graphic – a blown-off arm here, an exploding head there.

Amid the dusty outdoors and bullet-ripped clothes, Antoinette Messam’s costume design features a wide range of interesting vintage hats and lived-in frontier wear, with a few striking dusters and coats adding to the characters’ stature. You can always pick out Nat Love because of his jaunty red kerchief.

Not to be confused with a 1956 movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart, “The Harder They Fall” unfortunately lacks staying power because it preferred style over substance.

“The Harder They Fall” is a 2021 western directed by Jaymes Samuel and stars Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Zazie Beets, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo and Danielle Deadwyler. Rated R for strong violence and language, the run time is 2 hours and 16 minutes. In theaters Oct. 22 and streaming on Netflix on Nov. 3. Lynn’s Grade: C+

 The Critics Choice Association has announced the additional honorees and presenters that will join, virtually, the third annual Celebration of Black Cinema on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.  The ceremony will be hosted by author and media personality Bevy Smith

Following its invitation-only digital premiere, the event will be shared with the public on KTLA and offered to all Nexstar Media Group television stations.  KTLA will air the 90-minute Celebration of Black Cinema special in Los Angeles on Saturday night, February 6th.   

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) will receive the Performance of the Year Award for his magnetic and heartbreaking portrayal of Levee, an ambitious musician struggling to earn the recognition he deserves in a world, and a recording studio, built against him.  

A special donation in Chadwick Boseman’s name will be designated to provide scholarships to students participating in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Gold Program.  The Academy Gold Program is an industry talent development, diversity and inclusion initiative to provide individuals, with a focus on underrepresented communities, access and resources to achieve their career pathways in filmmaking.   

Zendaya & John David Washington (Malcolm & Marie) will receive the NextGen Award for their work on the highly anticipated Malcolm & Marie, which was filmed safely amid the pandemic and became one of the most sought-after projects of the season.  Washington and Zendaya portray a filmmaker and his girlfriend returning home from his movie premiere and awaiting the critical response. 

Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah) will receive the Director Award for his visionary telling of the story of American civil rights leader Chairman Fred Hampton, iconic leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was ultimately killed in 1969. 

Tommie Smith (With Drawn Arms) will receive the Social Justice Award.  An iconic athlete and activist, in With Drawn Arms, Smith reflects on his iconic fist-thrust silent protest on the medal stand during the nation anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics, a moment that helped define the civil rights movement. 

The Celebration of Black Cinema honorees will be fêted by a prestigious group of presenters who will celebrate their work and their ongoing commitment to telling Black stories on film, including Nnamdi Asomugha, Lee Daniels, Michael Ealy, Dominique Fishback, Taraji P. Henson, Daniel Kaluuya, Jonathan Majors, Kemp Powers, Aaron Sorkin, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Williams, and George C. Wolfe

As previously announced, the event will recognize Delroy Lindo (Career Achievement Award), John Legend & Mike Jackson (the Producers Award), Tessa Thompson (the Actor Award), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (the Breakthrough Award), Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli GoreeAldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom, Jr. (the Ensemble Award),and Andra Day (Special Honoree Award). 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com