The Harder They Fall
In 1890, Rufus Buck’s (Idris Elba) prison transport breakout captures the attention of Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) who has been looking for vengeance against the man since the age of 10. But Rufus Buck also has a beef with Nat Love’s gang, outlaws who rob bank robbers, whose recent stickup of the Red Hood Gang has cost him $25K. Rufus gains the upper hand when Trudy Smith (Regina King) imprisons Nat’s beloved Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and he demands that Nat not only return his money but rob a bank for $10K more to get her back in “The Harder They Fall.”
Laura's Review: B
Cowriter (with Boaz Yakin)/director Jeymes Samuel reaches into the Black history of the American West for a very specifically stylized neo-Western using real people in a fictional tale set in an artificial world where brutal violence appears grabbed from comic book frames all set to Reggae and hip-hop inflected genre music. Sporting a large ensemble of veteran actors, up-and-comers and one impressively working outside his usual comfort zone (‘Blackish’s’ Deon Cole as Redwood City Mayor Wiley Escoe), the film is often funny and very entertaining.
A prologue reveals the source of Nat Love’s trauma as a man with a scorpion tattoo and another bearing two golden guns barge in to shoot his mother, then his father, before leaving him with a cross cut into his forehead with a straight razor. Snap to the present and the adult Nat dispatches the tattooed man inside a church, telling its terrified pastor to turn the body in for a $5K bounty. When the pastor asks why he doesn’t go after the cash himself, Nat replies ‘Because I’m worth 10.’
After the film’s Leone-esque opening credits, we’re plunged into the hijacking of the Red Hood gang’s robbery haul, Jim ‘Quick Draw’ Beckworth (RJ Cyler, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl") brutally dispatching most of their members along with witty quips. He and Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi, TV's 'For All Mankind') are part of Nat’s gang and when Nat walks into Sally’s saloon in Douglastown, his reluctant ex-lover and her cross dressing bouncer Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler, "The Devil to Pay") will be too.
Meanwhile another saloon owner, ‘Treacherous Trudy,’ has parked her horse across the railroad tracks in front of a train bearing down. Stopped by its panicked engineer, its passengers are cowed by Trudy and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) and a callow soldier taken hostage to secure Buck’s release. Leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, the gang returns to Redwood City, ousting Mayor Wiley Escoe (he’ll end up aiding the Love Gang, along with U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo)).
The film has a number of surprises up its sleeve, like the town, Maysville, that’s chosen for Nat to rob his first bank. It’s an all white town and production designer Martin Whist makes that humorously literal, the better for Cuffee to stand out awkwardly attired in a long red gown. But while this is the most satisfying example of Samuel’s flashy style, one cannot help but wonder how the film might have played if the young Nat’s home hadn’t looked like it was art directed by Crate and Barrel, the film more rooted in reality. But Samuel has an interesting revelation at the heart of his crisscrossing betrayals and one-upmanship’s that closes out his film on a satisfying note. (A lesser one features a goodbye kiss.)
Majors ably leads the film as its charming antihero, Elba employs quiet menace and it’s a real kick to see King unleash her badassed self, but the film’s biggest rewards come from its lesser known players, Deadwyler positively delightful as the tough little woman posing as an unthreatening looking man.
Robin's Review: B
As a boy, Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) witnessed the cold-blooded murder of his parents by the notorious outlaw, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). All grown up now, he learns that his lifelong nemesis is being released from prison and assembles his gang to help him get revenge in “The Harder They Fall.”
First time feature writer-director-producer Jeymes Samuel assemble an enormous cast of color to tell the fictional story about the plethora of characters and prefaces it with the declaration, “THESE. PEOPLE. EXISTED.” Then the filmmakers take all of these “real” people and mush all of them together in a fictional western saga that wears its stylish excess on its sleeve.
As I watched this slick drama unfold, I felt like I was watching an amalgam of a Quentin Tarantino western and Sam Raimi’s “The Quick and the Dead (1995),” but with a marvelous cast of color. The imaginative script draws together a collection of real-life characters – Nat Love, Rufus Buck, Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz), Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) – from different locales and times of the old west and puts them all together.
At the beginning of the film, when the preacher and his family sit down for dinner and hear a knock on the door, my thought was “the prodigal son comes home.” That thought was violently dispelled moments later but the thought kept popping up in my head. By the end of “The Harder They Fall” I proved to be (sort of) right. But, you will have to see it for yourself to decide.
The story of revenge is cloaked in some of the more extreme props and costumes with a production that is high on steroids as it pulls together these many characters and their stories. I do not think I have seen as many gold-colored guns since the James Bond flick, “The Man with the Golden Gun (1974),” adding even more to the film’s slick look.
Oh, yeah, a word of caution – the bloody body count would make John Wick and John Woo proud.
Netflix releases "The Harder They Fall" in theaters on 10/22/2021 and streaming on 11/3/2021.