The Harder They Fall is a relentless Western that bristles with vitality.
This review of the Netflix film The Harder They Fall does not contain spoilers.
The revenge thriller has been done ten times over. Do you know the kind of Western? A man goes on one last ride to avenge [insert the name and relationship here]. What makes The Harder They Fall different is that they embrace and double-down on the endless cycle of nonsensical violence. It’s a decisive western filled with a distinct visual style, sound, and stand-out turns. Most notably, the charismatic Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) and scene-stealing LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah). Boaz Yakin’s (Fresh, Remember the Titans) script crackles and director Jeymus Samuels keeps the tension tightly wound.
Majors plays Nat Love, an outlaw who recently discovered that his mortal enemy, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), will be broken out of prison. He is the head of the Rufus Buck Gang (an egomaniac). A gang with an infamous reputation for robbery and murder. While away, they are led by “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Academy Award winner Regina King) and the silver-tongued Cherokee Bill (Stanfield), a spokesperson of sorts. Rufus is responsible for one half of Love’s reason for living— he carved a small cross on his forehead right after killing his mother and father in front of him when he was a small child.
The other half is his girl, Stage Coach Mary (Deadpool’s Zazie Beetz), an esteemed outlaw in her own right and owner of several saloon establishments all over the West. She has a look and singing voice that stops men in her tracks, not to mention a wicked right hook. Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler) play a bit of Robin Hood by relieving gangs of the money that they rob from banks. Mary’s hired muscle, Cuffee (a wonderful Danielle Deadwyler), keeps the drunks inline. Still, even she can’t stop legendary lawman Bass Reeves (the great Delroy Lindo) from checking his weapon at the door or arresting Love for robbing the gang that stole Rufus’s nest egg.
The script from Boaz incorporates legendary, real-life western figures made famous by word of mouth and dime-store novels. Love and Buck are real-life figures, along with Stanfield’s Bill, Lindo’s U.S. Marshall Reeves, and Beetz’s Mary, a former mail carrier. By all accounts, none of the storylines are based on real accounts. The figures are used as inspirations for the character’s personas. Think of The Harder They Fall as a graphic novel adaptation of those tall-tales turned into dime-store novels.
The film is wonderful to look at. For example, scenes like Stanfield’s monologue while boarding a train are beautifully put together. Samuels has a natural eye for oozing visual appeal. He matches it with an almost perfect soundtrack to go with its evocative musical score. It’s the way he weds sights and sounds that creates a style all his own.
I’ve been saying it for years, Majors is a natural talent and is about to find mainstream movie glory. His take on Nate is confident and full of leading man charm. Majors can knock you over with a switchblade smile or an emotionally devastating scene where all that bravado comes crumbling down. It’s a breakout mainstream role. This will serve him well in future roles he is signed up for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The script has its standard revenge outlines and action tropes. Beetz’s character makes a head-scratching decision that you know will end up getting her caught. It’s really nothing more than a setup for the second half of the film’s motivation. Some of the actors are not meant for this world. Not to mention, the final act has Rufus watching the showdown, and everyone keeps looking up at him. It occurred to no one to shoot him in the window, so we all could have gone home at the 90-minute mark.
However, that’s beside the point. The Harder They Fall is a western that is here to entertain and enjoy. The action is the equivalent of a director with an itchy trigger finger— relentless and bristles with vitality. It’s a Western example of the endless cycle of revenge and offers no easy solutions to resolve that.
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