To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The Harder They Fall is a revisionist western film directed by Jeymes Samuel, starring an all-Black cast including Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole. Loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen, and outlaws of the 19th-century American West, the story follows Nat Love and his partners, sharpshooter Bill Pickett and quick draw Jim Beckwourth as they team up with his former lover, Mary Fields, and U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves to take down the notorious Rufus Buck and his gang of outlaws.
Jeymes Samuel does a fantastic job for his feature-length directorial debut. It’s not often in westerns that you see an all-Black starring cast. The Harder They Fall only shows White people in two scenes. Samuel takes full advantage of his cast in the way he represents each one of them. Even though the cast is entirely Black they are just as diverse as if multiple ethnic groups were being displayed. Some Black people are cowboys, outlaws, lawmen, bank owners, saloon owners, etc. The women are also front and center and given equal screen time as the men. Also not once do you see a Black person represented as poor, illiterate, or enslaved.
The acting in the film is terrific and everybody turns in a wonderful performance. Jonathan Majors shines as Nat Love. His character is fun, charismatic, and hell-bent on revenge. His drive to kill Rufus Buck is what sets the events in motion. Idris Elba does a fine job as Rufus Buck but his role is more minimal than the trailers lead you to believe. He is shown as more of a presence, rarely having to lift a finger to get what he wants. Regina King is great as Trudy Smith. Trudy is Rufus’ second in command and just as respected as he is. She has a great scene where she tells Mary a story about her sister that tells volumes about the type of person she is without having her show it. King does attempt an unfamiliar accent with Trudy that ends up sounding as if her tongue is swollen. RJ Cyler and Edi Gathegi are a fun duo as Jim Beckwourth and Bill Pickett. Beckwourth is the youngest member of Nat Love’s crew and also the cockiest. Pickett is older and wiser and acts as a big brother to Beckwourth. He tries to give him advice on how to stay alive while Beckwourth just wants acknowledgment of his skills. Their demise is foreshadowed multiple times throughout the film.
Other great performances include Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves. Reeves gets a certain kind of respect from every other character no matter what side of the law they are on. It would’ve been great to see more of this character. Zazie Beetz as Mary Fields is a character who is shown as intelligent and fairly wealthy. Something not usually showcased of Black people, let alone women during this period. Her tumultuous relationship with Nat Love is the heart of the film. Lakeith Stanfield is likable as Cherokee Bill. Bill is hands down the most laidback, suave outlaw we meet in the film. Speaking softly and quoting Native American prayers, he claims to hate violence yet shows a more sinister and somewhat cowardly side when threatened.
Mihai Mălaimare Jr. does a great job with the cinematography. There are wide sweeping shots of valleys and mountains, plains, and desserts fully showcasing the variety of the old west. The best part about this period in US history is that you can have a single train puffing through a valley with nothing around it for miles which makes for a beautiful cinematic. There is a specific scene where Nat Love and Cuffee go to Maysville which is stated beforehand to be a White town. It is here that the title card is shown as its usual white. However, the town is not only full of White people, but all the buildings in the town are white as well along with the horses and the sand on the ground. This allows for our protagonists to stand out more than in other scenes while also emphasizing that they are outsiders.
The music in the score is also top-notch. You have your typical Western sounds created by the guitar, piano, and flute contrasting with the natural sounds of horses galloping, crickets chirping, etc. This is all accompanied by the amazing soundtrack of anachronistic hip-hop, reggae, and gospel music. Characters also are shown singing Negro spirituals throughout. This adds a dash of realism and weight to the events that are taking place in the period as well as a respect for the culture that is being represented. The best part about the film is that most of the characters are based on real people. In early westerns, Black people are rarely seen and if they are seen they are mostly villains or sidekicks. It was reassuring to see so many people of color in the story I know that they are real even if the story that is using them is fictional.
The story does stall a bit during the middle and there is a switch in terms of what the characters are trying to accomplish. This part felt unnecessary and could have been edited down for a tighter runtime. Once we get to the final confrontation the story does pick up more but the end is a little anticlimactic. This is mainly because the revelation between Nat Love and Rufus Buck is not hinted at throughout the film and blindsides the audience when revealed. Also while most of the foreshadowing is used in a meaningful way by the end, there is a missed opportunity with Beckwourth’s Cherokee Bill inscribed bullet.
The Harder They Fall is different than your typical Western yet feels like it thoroughly belongs in the genre. The story is fun and the music is great. I give The Harder They Fall a Decent 7.8/10. I’d be interested to see Netflix develop more stories centered around black cowboys, lawmen, and outlaws as there is a large audience for it. It would be great to have another film set around Nat Love as The Harder They Fall does set itself up for a sequel.