Westerns are an old art form of cinema that aren’t made as they used to. It’s also a bit different when you have an all-star cast of Black actors at the helm. Directed by Jeymes Samuel in his directorial debut, the film uses historical figures but as it states in the movie, the story is purely fictional. The Harder They Fall shows more of an importance on these characters to show that they really did exist during those times.
The Harder They Fall follows Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), an outlaw who robs from thieves rather than from normal people. In a way, he’s kind of like Robin Hood in which he and his gang of felons try to help ordinary citizens in their time of need. He lost his parents after being murdered by the notorious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Since then, Love has had revenge on his mind, hoping to come face-to-face with his perpetrator. He also goes down the path of an outlaw himself, but he follows a code where he only targets outlaws. Among his posse is the gun-totting Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler), range shooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and his lover and brothel owner Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz). Teaming up with Texas Ranger Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), the gang head over to Redwood City where they have a standoff against Rufus Buck and his group in this bloody revenge tale.
Major’s character isn’t just your average cowboy as he has some charm and style but he also shows some emotional depth in some heavy scenes that require him to dig deep into his soul. Just like Love, even Elba’s Buck has an importance to the story as a criminal mastermind who runs an empire to achieve what is known as the Promised Land for African Americans living in the Old West. His opening scene where he makes an escape on a train shows just how deadly and menacing he can be. Even the final scene show off how much depth Elba has as an actor once he’s given some material he can work with.
The rest of the cast show some support between our two leading men, bringing in a class of top-notch talent onto the screen. Regina King as Bucks’ right-hand woman Trudy Smith shows how ruthless she can be while also being calm before a storm. LaKeith Stanfield also shows a great performance as Cherokee Bill, Buck’s loyal soldier who also brings sincerity and demeanor into this role. Both Cyler and Gathegi give a balance of heartwarming humor with their scenes together. It’s good to see that Samuel manages to put in enough humor while giving this Western some contemporary flavor thanks to the dialogue and the action.
The music compliments really well with the film by mixing in a Western score with contemporary songs that have reggae and hip-hop overtones. This brings in a true Black experience in a genre that caters to Caucasian audiences. This puts white people more into the background as the Black characters are front and center taking in every role on screen whether its law enforcement, criminals, or ordinary citizens. Even when the white people are on screen, they are mentioned in a cheeky kind of way that makes it obvious to the viewer but in a fun matter thanks to the incredible production design and sets.
It is great to see an old genre such as a Western being shown through the eyes of the Black experience. Shots of the Old West with gunslingers getting their close-ups is what makes this film feel grand. Seeing the journeys that both the heroes and villains take that culminate in one final showdown makes it all worth while. Even though some liberties were taken with certain characters and their backstories, The Harder They Fall is truly Samuel’s vision of a Western with historical figures that are often never mentioned in history books.
The Harder They Fall brings the Western back with a new flavor that still sticks to the ingredients to make this a classic. With some witty dialogue, incredible shootouts, and an incredible cast of talent firing in all directions. With an amazing soundtrack and lively characters, this Western brings a modern spin with a Black lens that puts everyone on the spotlight.
The Harder They Fall is currently streaming on Netflix.
Movie Reviewed by TANTV Entertainment Journalist, Mufsin Mahbub. Follow him on Twitter @MufsinM.