REVIEW: ‘The Harder They Fall’ Is A Western Infused With Black Excellence

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The Harder They Fall - But Why Tho

The Harder They Fall is a Netflix Original Film directed, produced, and co-written by Jeymes Samuel. Outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) learns that the notorious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) has been sprung from prison. Love wants revenge on Buck for killing his parents when he was a child and assembles his gang including his lover Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), rifleman Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and quickdraw Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler). Together with Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), they travel to Redwood City where Buck has set up shop after ousting the local sheriff Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole).

Samuel has said in interviews that The Harder They Fall is both a love letter to the Western genre and a celebration of real-life history, as all of the characters in the film are real-life people. The beginning of the film even throws down the gauntlet with a single statement: “These. People. Existed.” It’s a bold but definitely welcome declaration that this won’t be the Western viewers are accustomed to. In the same way that LeSean Thomas put a mystical spin on the first Black samurai with Yasuke, Samuel and co-writer Boaz Yakin craft a tale of revenge and love that centers figures from Black history.

Samuel is also one of the rare directors that manages to balance style with substance, as the various shootouts and fight scenes within the film have a gory visual flair that even Quentin Tarantino would be envious of. The film’s title drop is a key example. When an outlaw finds himself on the wrong end of Love’s guns, each word is punctuated by a bullet fired and a jet spray of blood. That flair also extends to the film’s music, which has hip-hop and reggaeton beats percolating throughout the score. Samuel also worked on the film’s score and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter serves as a producer. The film is peppered with legitimately hilarious moments, including when Nat and his friends have to rob a bank in a white town. Said town is actually painted white, in addition to having a majority white population. Cyler’s Beckworth is just as fast with his mouth as he is with his guns and his back and forth with the rest of the cast provides much-needed levity that helps break up the gore and the drama.

The major draw of the film has to be Majors and Elba, with both men delivering career-best performances. Majors has been on the rise since Lovecraft Country; his Love is a man who, despite breaking the law, has a strong sense of justice and a connection to his gang—especially Mary, as he wants to set aside the outlaw life and marry her. And Elba is genuinely terrifying as Buck; whenever he steps into a room, everyone falls quiet and they seem to shrink in his presence. Their final confrontation is an emotional one, especially when Buck reveals more of his past and the reason he gunned down Love’s parents. I’d be so bold as to say that it even rivals the showdown between Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson in fellow Netflix film The Devil All The Time.

The rest of the cast is just as engaging, especially Regina King as Buck’s right-hand woman Trudy Smith and LaKeith Stanfield as the mercurial gunslinger Cherokee Bill. Stanfield’s laconic, more easy-going nature as Bill is a perfect contrast to King’s ruthless efficiency as Mary. The fact that Buck’s gang is just as deadly and notorious as he is provides a solid challenge for Love and his gang. Lindo turns in a solid performance as Reeves and Danielle Deadwyler is a welcome surprise as Cuffee, the tomboyish bouncer who works at Mary’s saloon. If there is one issue with the film, it’s that Beetz’s Mary could have had a stronger presence—though she and King engage in one of the film’s most highly charged and vicious fight scenes.

The Harder They Fall is the shot in the arm the Western genre needed thanks to a star-studded cast, a director who marries style with substance, and a focus on Black history. It’s definitely in the upper echelon of Netflix’s films and I urge everyone to watch it when they can, whether you’re a fan of the cast involved or you’ve been itching for the return of the classic Western.

The Harder They Fall is currently playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Netflix on November 3.

Rating: 9/10


THe Harder They Fall
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The Harder They Fall is the shot in the arm the Western genre needed thanks to a star-studded cast, a director who marries style with substance, and a focus on Black history. It’s definitely in the upper echelon of Netflix’s films and I urge everyone to watch it when they can, whether you’re a fan of the cast involved or you’ve been itching for the return of the classic Western.