Never a huge fan of Westerns, Samuel’s film (director, co-writer with Boaz Yakin, composer), caught my attention from first frame to last. How telling to have two Black gangs go at each other with a bloody fury that left few still standing after the last gun was fired. But it’s the writing, music and cinematography (Mihai Mălaimare deftly brings revealing portraits of the principals—together and apart—into view, silently adding much to their characterizations).
Heading up the Nat Love Gang, Jonathan Majors is superb in his years-long quest for revenge, having witnessed the assassination of both parents at the dinner table at a very tender age. Idris Elba is equally adept in his portrayal of Rufus Buck, whose gang causes all manner of murder and mayhem—even while he is temporarily in jail. Trying to keep the peace, even if it means consorting with the “enemy”, Delroy Lindo offers a touch of Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western stoicism playing Marshall Bass Reeves.
Both leading women own bars/cat houses. Zazie Beetz ably demonstrates she’s as tough as any man in the role of Mary. Trudy King scores a knockout punch, digging deep into the evil incarnate, Trudy. Their inevitable catfight is expertly staged and delivered.
In many ways, this production is worth a look/listen just for the score (employing the talents of the Chamber Orchestra of London—apparently a pickup band). There’s an ear-enticing mix of choral, rap, ballads, gritty strings and delicate solo soprano. Lyrics such as The road is far too long, add still further insights into the action.
The storyline offers enough real twists and turns to forgive the requisite blood bath (special effects sparing viewers no details of severed limbs and flesh bursting with every shot).
Perhaps the most telling scene of all is when the Black gang robs a lily-white bank (with a touch of drag added into the mix). The astonished employees and clients (“What are they doing here?), are at a loss; Nat then sums up the situation in just three words, “Times have changed.” That is still true today, but the road to universal equality is still “too far long”.
And as is becoming more frequent the credits list COVID compliance officer, clearly another sign of changing times. JWR