- Directed by Jeymes Samuel
- October 6, 2021 (BFI) / October 22, 2021 (US) / November 3, 2021 (Netflix)
An outlaw hunts down the man that killed his mother and father.
The Harder They Fall is a revisionist Western though not a revisionist Western where everybody is irredeemably shitty. Thank goodness otherwise I would not have been able to make it through the movie. These are hard and tough people in a hard and tough world. But they are not unnecessarily so. The circumstances in their lives and their world have made the assorted characters that way and they are simply dealing with things as they are.
This movie is a work of historical fiction using real characters. If you know anything about some of them you know how far off some of the rails their portrayals can get so do not expect reality. We get figures such as Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Regina King as Treacherous Trudy Smith (though very little is known about her), US Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield), Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee who was inspired by Cathay Williams, Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and Deon Cole as Wiley Escoe who was inspired by a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the Indian Territory and was of was of Black and Creek-American Indian heritage. All interesting historical figures and great characters in this film even if not historically accurate here.
Jonathan Majors as Nat Love is rather charming as the central character of the story. He’s an outlaw but has a great deal of charisma. He might kill you but he’s a likable guy before that. His need for vengeance against Rufus Buck is what propels much of the movie. Buck killed his family and Love has been hunting down the members of his Red Hood Gang in revenge.
Idris Elba as Rufus Buck is the villain of the story. He is as charming as Love but could at times be coldly cruel. He is introduced into the story when his gang frees him from a train where they reveal he has been pardoned and they have been hired to kill the corrupt US Army soldiers escorting him. To show just how terrible he can be he keeps alive the only soldier that can drive a train and slaughters the rest with the implication being his time comes once the train gets where it is going.
The action of The Harder They Fall then begins to center around the African-American settlement of Redwood City currently run by Buck’s associate Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole) acting as sheriff. After a rather brutal pistol whipping of Escoe, Buck demands $50,000 from the citizens or he will destroy the property of anyone who says ‘No.’ By this point I am not sure they ever say why Buck got the pardon. One could draw the implication it is somehow connected to Redwood City but truthfully I do not know.
As much as the camera loves the characters, it also loves the environment that the story is set in. Like some of the best Westerns, The Harder They Fall lovingly frames the scenery. The shots often border on epic. Very artistic. It is a film that could be watched on mute and enjoyed for the visuals.
The dialogue is snappy and they manage the occasional joke which does not come off as forced or out of place for the events or characters. From the central characters to the supporting ones, they are all different and range from likeable to despicable-as they should. This is one of the better casts I have seen assembled for a Western in quite some time. And they aren’t just phoning in but rather crafting individual and strong characters. The Harder They Fall does not rely on the talent to carry it but is also held together by a quality script and great direction.
The action is great. The story just builds from the beginning. It doesn’t meander around until they hit the end but rather each element from the opening and contributes to the finale. Too often with a stellar cast like the one assembled they kind of stumble around hoping that the actors will fix an otherwise weak film.
This is a story of vengeance and seeking brutal justice in a brutal world. The finale is explosive (literally at one point) and exciting and uses as much brains as it does violence to solve the situation. In fact the violence occurs because of using brains. In revisionist Westerns often it is violence for the sake of violence but here the violence accomplishes a goal.
The Harder They Fall is a great newer Western. It’s revisionist but not to the point of being depressing. It’s a very exciting and well-crafted film with fine characters and good drama. I think it will please Western fans of all stripes and highly recommend it to the general movie goer as well!