The Harder They Fall

A shoot-em up western with fresh beats and riveting performances.

“The Harder They Fall” is an African-American western that tells a fictional story, while using real names to tell it. For one thing you have Jonathan Majors as Nat Love (1854-1921), the cowboy and former enslaved person, who wants revenge on the man who murdered his parents and scarred him with the cross on his forehead.

Co-writer/director Jeymes Samuel (also known as the British singer The Bullitts) and co-writer Boaz Yakin deliver the goods in a western that uses big words and big guns, and allows the characters to be fearless and daring simultaneously. Making its way on Netflix soon, “The Harder They Fall” has an edge that reminds us a bit of “Django Unchained,” “Unforgiven,” the Spaghetti westerns, and John Wayne movies without feeling so self-congratulatory about it.

Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is the man who murdered Nat’s parents, and he gets released from prison by his henchmen Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trudy Smith (Regina King). They hold a local town hostage, demanding money from the residents. Actually, Nat stole money from Rufus, and he, too, wants revenge on him.

He recruits his former gang to handle this bad guy. They consist of his ex-girlfriend Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), whom he still loves; the tranquil Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi); the fast and youthful Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler); and the Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo). And then, there’s also Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), who looks like a man and fights like one, but is actually a woman-a smart and sassy one.

Out of all the big names to shoot ’em up in “The Harder They Fall,” the best performances come from Majors, King, Beetz, Stanfield, Elba, and Deadwyler. Majors, who’s made a name for himself with “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Da 5 Bloods,” has the right kind of ambitions to keep pushing himself further as a young actor. Beetz is tough as nails when she deals with her ambiguous love story with Nat and the fights with Trudy. Speaking of which, King knocks it out of the park when she takes no prisoners and never lets go. Stanfield is also a worthy henchman when he takes a break from his usual tone. Elba has his devious and honest moments as the main antagonist. And I don’t need to remind you on how smart and sassy Deadwyler is.

I could do without the scene when Rufus breaks a sheriff’s (Deon Cole) gold teeth out of his mouth, because it’s a bit too harsh, but it takes advantage of the R-rating with the dialogue, gun fights, and other types of fights that pop up. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, Jr. (“The Master,” “Jojo Rabbit”) photographs those scenes with the right lights, while editor Tom Eagles (also behind “Jojo Rabbit”) fixes them quite well.

The movie was also produced by Jay-Z, so that would explain all the hot songs that appear in the soundtrack. But then again, it wouldn’t be the first movie he’s produced with “The Great Gatsby” from 2013 and “Top Five” being his best entries, and Jeymes Samuel has collaborated with him before. Nonetheless, “The Harder They Fall” is a rather ballsy, extensive, and damn right fresh.

And about the real life characters being placed in a fictional story, don’t see this a history movie, because Quentin Tarantino can alter history if he chooses to, see it for the A-list cast and their aspects on westerns.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters

Streaming on Netflix November 3

Categories: Drama, Western

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