When Robinhood-esque bandit Nat Love learns that the murderer of his parents, outlaw Rufus Buck, has been released from prison, he sets out to exact his revenge once and for all.
Pro – dynamite cast
“The Harder They Fall” pits Nat Love’s (Jonathan Majors) gang of “righteous” outlaws against Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and his evil gang of bandits. The film is rooted in the classic Western tropes of vengeance and posses. That type of film only works when the groups involved are full of interesting and appealing characters, and this film has them in spades.
Each group has great characters given life by outstanding actors who appear to be having a blast in their roles. Majors is fantastic as the aforementioned Nat Love, giving the character depth and an edge often missing in his arrow-shooting brethren. Zazie Beetz is outstanding as Nat’s former love interest, Stagecoach Mary, feeling both vulnerable and yet dangerous at the same time. Her opposite is the immensely talented Regina King, who appears to be relishing every scene she gets to play the cold-hearted Trudy Smith. There are too many great performances to call them all out, including Delroy Lindo’s Bass Reeves. The absolute lynchpin of the film is Elba’s Rufus Buck. Elba is a great hero, but he’s an even better villain.
Pro – A great set-up
The story told in “The Harder They Fall” is very interesting. It’s not Shakespeare certainly, but right from the jump the audience will be hard pressed not to be ensnared by the tale of revenge. It’s violent at times, but in a stylized way that makes it more palatable. Each posse is quickly and seamlessly pulled together and given room to breathe, and the story rushes forward at a fun pace. Scenes serve as rewatchable vignettes that are neatly strung together. The movie never drags, mostly because it balances action and intrigue so nicely.
Neutral – Western “adjacent”
The question is not whether “The Harder They Fall” is a classic Western; it’s not. That’s because a classic Western takes itself seriously. The stakes, the struggle of good and evil, the action, and even the music is set to remind the audience that what they are watching was real in the not-too-distant past.
The question about “The Harder They Fall” rather is whether this film is an homage, a parody, or both to the Western. Fans of the Western genre will find a lot to like here, but shouldn’t be too fooled by the window dressing. This is a stylized film with music and cinematic choices that feel like their own homage to the Quentin Tarantino method of film-making. That’s not to say that the style and uniqueness of the direction is bad, but it is worth noting because it could be off-putting for an audience seeking something else.
“The Harder They Fall” is a unique and stylized Western. It won’t feel conventional, but that should be part of the appeal. The deeply talented cast is on fire, and it’s a pleasure watching them ply their craft. With a solid backbone of a story, time spent watching will fly by. Give it a watch on Netflix, and then jump in your F-14 and buzz the tower over at the Fridley Palms Theatre to give one of their massive new releases a view the next night.