Directed by: Jeymes Samuel
Premise: Set in the American West, a group of bandits unknowingly steal money from a notorious gang, setting the two groups of outlaws on a collision course.
What Works: The western genre is enjoying a resurgence with movies coming in a variety of tones from the solemness of The Power of the Dog to the humor of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Harder They Fall is something we haven’t much of yet – a fun shoot ’em up adventure that is in touch with the heyday of the western and entertains the myth of the virtuous outlaw. The action scenes are well done and offer thrills as well as some well-timed comedy. But The Harder They Fall is distinguished but its black cast. Although historically many cowboys were people of color, they have been largely excluded from this genre of filmmaking. The Harder They Fall tells a fictionalized story involving real life characters, putting this film in the same category as western action movies like Tombstone and Young Guns and it has a similar appeal as those titles. But the presence of black characters is more than a novelty. The western genre was often about the search for freedom with characters carving a new civilization out of the wilderness and those themes are central to The Harder They Fall. The conflicts over money and power are not an end in themselves; they are rooted in a broader struggle for survival and dignity which gives the story some additional dramatic weight. The Harder They Fall has a likable cast. Jonathan Majors plays Nat Love, a bandit with a personal score to settle with Rufus Buck, the villain played by Idris Elba. Although nearly everyone in the movie is an outlaw, the filmmakers carefully manage our sympathies. Love and Buck possess a complexity that Majors and Elba successfully exploit. The film also includes colorful supporting characters, namely LaKeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, Zazie Beetz as Mary Fields, and RJ Cyler as Jim Beckwourth. Regina King is especially fearsome as Trudy Smith, the chief lieutenant to Elba’s character.
What Doesn’t: The one flaw of The Harder They Fall is in the film’s look. It has a very clean appearance. That’s evident in the sets and especially in the costumes which often look like they just came off a wardrobe rack. Many of the actors also look a little too well groomed in a way that is inconsistent with the setting and tone of the movie. Compare the look of The Harder They Fall with the art direction of Deadwood or The Sisters Brothers and this film’s stylistic shortcomings become obvious. It gives The Harder They Fall an artificial feel that is at odds with the rest of the movie.
DVD extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Harder They Fall is a satisfying action picture. The movie offers the thrills viewers look for in this kind of shoot-’em-up western but The Harder They Fall is distinguished by its interesting characters and intelligent take on the genre’s themes.
Episode: #886 (January 9, 2022)