Netflix’s Western Knows How To Have A Good Time

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The Harder They Fall is a crowd-pleasing and worthy addition to the Western canon that knows how to have a good time with a familiar story.

Any movie that boasts Jay-Z as a producer is bound to be considered cool in some way, and Netflix’s rollicking Western The Harder They Fall can certainly be called that. It’s also thrilling, funny, emotional, and packed to the brim with excellent performances. Directed by singer-songwriter/music producer Jeymes Samuel (who helms his first feature film here), The Harder They Fall looks pretty familiar on paper, taking a classic Western story and throwing in plenty of the genre’s tropes. It’s through Samuel’s direction and his cast – made up primarily of Black performers – that it becomes something fresh and unique. The Harder They Fall is a crowd-pleasing and worthy addition to the Western canon that knows how to have a good time with a familiar story.


Though not based on a true story, each character in The Harder They Fall was a real figure from the American West. The action primarily centers on two gangs, each led by a legendary outlaw. Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) is more honorable than most, but even he’s willing to get his hands dirty when it comes to chasing down revenge. For years, Nat’s been going after the gang that killed his parents, and just when he thinks he’s gotten the last of them, a wrench gets thrown into the mix — their leader, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), is being let out of prison. Determined to end things once and for all, Nat rounds up his crew (comprised of Zazie Beetz, RJ Cyler, Edi Gathegi, Danielle Deadwyler, and Delroy Lindo) to confront Buck, who is flanked by formidable outlaws played by Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield.

Related: The Harder They Fall: Every Real-Life Historical Figure

Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall

Zazie Beetz and Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall starts with a striking message, reaffirming that “These. People. Existed.” That defiant declaration immediately forces the audience to acknowledge a group of characters often forgotten by history simply because of the color of the their skin. People of color are severely underrepresented in Westerns, which is why The Harder They Fall has made such an impact in the weeks leading up to its release. Samuel, working from a screenplay he wrote with Boaz Yakin (and based on a story the director devised), doesn’t let his characters’ race go entirely unacknowledged. In fact, one particularly amusing sequence in a “white town” hinges on it. At the same time, it’s never treated like the groundbreaking feat it is in real life. These were real people who lived and breathed, and they’re finally getting a story of their own.

It’s not a story they actually carried out in real life, but Samuel worked hard to bring it to vivid life as though they did. His background in music is clear even beyond the soundtrack, which is packed with a large number of songs he contributed to in some way. Samuel has a clear eye for striking visuals, and while sometimes The Harder They Fall does feel very much like a music video, it isn’t a feeling that sticks around for too long. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. finds exciting ways to support Samuel’s vision, whether it be by moving the camera along with the action or framing the characters in interesting ways. His work is further aided by editor Tom Eagles, who sometimes contributes to the music video vibe, but mainly adds to the vibrant visual style.

Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, and RJ Cyler in The Harder They Fall

Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, and RJ Cyler in The Harder They Fall

Thanks to his role on Lovecraft Country and his new place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Majors is already well on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. The Harder They Fall only further cements how much he deserves to be seen as such. Majors brings a swaggering confidence to gentleman outlaw Nat, but also knows when to pull back and let his inner pain show. He’s especially gripping in the final scenes, which contain some major (no pun intended) reveals. As his main adversary, Elba is expectedly excellent, though he also fades from the action right when one wishes he’d be at the center of it. His Rufus Buck, while clearly a hardened and dangerous man, hides some vulnerable inner layers that Elba touches upon well. Truly, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch, though additional MVPs include King as the sadistic Trudy Smith and Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, always quick to draw his gun when required, but also good for some excellent line deliveries. Admittedly, not all of the characters feel particularly fleshed out, but those like Gathegi and Cyler bring extra life to their alter egos.

It remains to be seen if The Harder They Fall will leverage its buzzy festival debut into some awards recognition, but it should certainly find some love on Netflix. Even those not usually drawn to Westerns will find themselves entertained by Nat and his gang, as well as Samuel’s direction. Undoubtedly, Samuel is a promising new voice when it comes to feature films, and it’ll be quite exciting to see what he does next. The Harder They Fall has made its mark on this well-trodden genre, and hopefully it’ll lead to more movies that upend expectations of what Western stories could be.

More: Watch The Harder They Fall Trailer

The Harder They Fall is streaming on Netflix as of November 3, 2021. It is 137 minutes long and rated R for strong violence and language.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)

  • The Harder They Fall (2021)Release date: Oct 22, 2021

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