The new Netflix film brings to screens classic Westerns with its star-studded cast of rough and rugged riders. Robbings, trains and banks, all on a quest to find a life for themselves in the wild west. But unfortunately, with too many subplots, some miscasting and a fair amount of awkward moments in the story, The Harder They Fall falls short of what it set out to deliver.
We kick off with a heartfelt family dinner where we meet our hero, a young Nat Love (Jonathon Majors). Unfortunately, dinner is soon crashed by the film’s gold gun-owning big bad, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Forced to watch his parents murdered by Rufus’ hand, Nat leaves not just psychological scars but a physical one too. A cross carved into his forehead as a reminder of the horror he witnessed.
It’s here we get our storytelling speed bump. We go from this heavy, vividly graphic scene into an intro-credits sequence that completely pulls you out of the moment. The soundtrack does its best to sell it. But there’s only so much good music can do when you go from gunfire to roll credits.
As we chug along and earnestly get into the film, years pass, and we meet the Nat Love gang. Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and the cocky quick-draw Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler). His former flame Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and Mary’s saloon bouncer Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler). And the Rufus Buck crew with right-hand woman Trudy Smith (Regina King) and famed pacifist quick-draw Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield). However, here is where the movie’s strength shines, in its side characters, especially with Trudy Smith and resident lawman Sherif Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo).
But where the side characters excel, the leads flounder. Majors’ Nat Love has a single-minded focus on avenging his parents’ deaths, and he does play that devoted and haunted man beautifully, but that’s it. His affections for Mary fall flat in comparison, and the chemistry they share doesn’t do much to add to their relationship. Rufus Buck suffers even more.
There’s no denying that Idris Elba is one of the most talented actors working today, but The Harder They Fall offers him nothing to work with.
He’s supposed to be a complex character. A wicked man with no qualms when it comes to killing, no issues with committing treasonous crimes, all in service of creating a promised land for Black folks. Even if it comes at the cost of the townspeople, he claims to be protecting. But, instead, we get a cold and one-dimensional man. Whose sole focus seems to be egging Nat Love into a showdown, which he does get, of course, with a twist ending too. But even that final battle failed to have the desired impact.
The cityscape was too pristine for what’s supposed to be a township that’s actively being encroached on by white settlers. Likewise, while visually stunning, the costumes feel out of place. Lacking the wear and tear you’d expect to see in clothes from back in the ye old days, instead looking fresh off the rack.
Honestly, The Harder They Fall comes off more like a comedy with weighty moments than anything else. So when you watch it from that perspective, it is a pretty enjoyable movie.
Jim Beckworth’s mischievous personality and obsession with proving that he’s a better quick-draw than Cherokee Bill leaves you feeling exasperated and amused and quietly rooting for him to have a chance to prove himself. Cuffee’s awkwardness, overprotectiveness and understated personality make you feel from them deeply. Especially when you’ve also felt the discomfort of not being cisgender in a world that doesn’t understand. All of the supporting characters tug at your heartstrings; their stories and disposition grab you by the hand and take you on a surprisingly entertaining journey.
All in all, the vivid gore, spectacular soundtrack, witty lines and Ms. Regina King being her brilliant self, save what would’ve otherwise been a very awkward two hours, seventeen mins. So while The Harder They Fall won’t be getting a stellar score, it is definitely an amusing one-time watch you should check out when you’re scrolling through Netflix looking for something new.