Netflix’s latest produced western pays homage to the classic tropes of the genre whilst planting its own roots. The lack of black representation portrayed in the genre throughout the years has always been a headscratcher, but director Jeymes Samuel brings that to the forefront of his stylishly splendid action western. Beaming with black heritage, featuring some of the best performers of today’s filmmaking market, and an energetic hip-hop/Afrobeat soundtrack produced by none other than Jay-Z. The Harder They Fall does a fantastic job of separating itself from the stereotypical tropes of the western genre.
Outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) has been on a revenge path to track down the man who murdered his parents, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Whilst being transported from Yuma in which he has spent the last few years being incarcerated, Buck’s gang commandeer the train in which he was being held and release him of his shackles. Upon hearing the news of Buck’s return, Love will have to once again confront him but he will need to form his own gang to help bring down Buck for good.
It’s clear that The Harder They Fall shares similarities and draws inspiration from Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). The stylish costume designs, overuse of violence and a modernised soundtrack that samples shades of classic Western compositions. In terms of narrative though, the two movies couldn’t be further apart.
It’s not so much a reminder of our dark past where racism and slavery was at its peak, but instead tells us a story that simply revolves around revenge. Two gangs pitted against each other to preserve the legacy of their unlawful leaders. Love’s lifestyle has simply been shaped by the murderer of his parents and his one goal has always been to exact his revenge.
Under the leadership of Love is Nat’s romantic interest Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), who is willing to tussle with the men she surrounds herself with and can wield a gun just as good as anyone. Snappy talking quick drawer Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler), sharpshooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and the mysterious Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) also join Nat in his quest for revenge.
In Buck’s stead is the equally brutal Trudy Smith (Regina King) and fast hands gun slinger, Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield). With the added struggle of the gold toothed sheriff of Rufus run Redwood City, Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole).
Each character essentially has their own adversary. Which creates an interesting dynamic challenging the difference between good and evil, and leads to some great character moments, which really is something this film handles incredibly well. A predominantly gritty and dark approach to this timely setting but is willing to have fun with it and give it this modernistic wrapping.
What the trailers may have you believe is that this will predominantly turn out to be an Idris led affair, but that’s never truly the case. Sure he plays an integral part to the movie’s plot and is the actual motivation behind the lead’s narrative choices, but he doesn’t hog the limelight to an extent where the rest of the cast are left feeling insufficient or undervalued in comparison, which is something I admire from the direction of Jeymes Samuel.
Netflix productions are something of a misfiring moviemaking machine. A conglomerate cog that always appears to offer the goods but can’t seem to always back it up. Thankfully The Harder They Fall doesn’t fall hard like most of their projects, and is a fun and enjoyable ride that although doesn’t tread totally new ground in the genre, it certainly steers it away from standard practice, and gives us a scope into western set civilisation that has continued to be ignored for decades.