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“The Harder They Fall” is Masterful, Beautiful, and Star-Studded [Review]

Netflix works hard to capitalize on original content, providing an enormous amount of television shows and exclusive films. There are perhaps more misses than hits, but “The Harder They Fall” is a triumphant reminder of just how good Netflix is in their selection of films to be streamed. Sporting an impressive cast and dazzling visuals, the film is a wonderful western packed with violence and likable characters. It’s got heavy tinges of “Django Unchained,” and that’s not to say anything about it being derivative (because it’s not at all) but rather it takes all of the best parts of that film and provides a fun, engaging narrative with journey that’s worth the payoff. There is no denying that writer/director Jeymes Samuel is clearly a fan of Quentin Tarantino, but where other fanboy filmmakers seek to copy their heroes, Samuel paid close attention to Tarantino’s skills and implementing them into his own film. “The Harder They Fall” is a masterful film, packed with purposeful visuals and story worth seeing through until the very end.

Samuel is one helluva director, someone who studied the best of the best before stepping behind the camera himself. Predominantly a musician (part of The Bullits), Samuel’s feature film debut is more than an announcement, it’s a statement. This is an astute student of film, one who clearly has some icons and instead of copying their filmography, opts to take the best parts of their work and apply them to their own vision. It is truly rare to see such a green filmmaker so masterful behind the camera, but Samuels’ “The Harder They Fall” is just another example of Netflix taking a risk and reaping the benefits. It is also another example of just how much diversity is continually needed in Hollywood. We need these voices, and we need this kind of representation, and they more we push them to fringes, the less “The Harder They Fall” we get to see. And that’s a damn shame, because this film is damn good.

Of course, the script and visuals are only as good as its cast. Lucky for us, “The Harder They Fall” has stars in spades. The cast for the film is too robust to list in its entirety, but it stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Alba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Deon Cole, and many more. It is refreshing to see an all black cast in a western. You can call me out for wokeness, but the fact that a tried and true western narrative is comprise of black actors and it can’t be classified as “black film” is simply something we need more of. Not just because diversity is important, but because “The Harder They Fall” proves that everyone is more than capable of telling compelling, engaging, and classic stories without the need for a white guy to sell tickets. I don’t want to dive into this too much, but it has to be said. We need more black actors in films that shed their stereotypes of “black films for black people” and this is an example as to why that’s so important.

The cast is just phenomenal, with everyone giving it their all at every single turn. That’s actually one of the most original parts of “The Harder They Fall,” in that the cast is so good and so packed that its hard to root against anyone despite the narrative clearly drawing lines between heroes and villains. You really can’t bring yourself to hate anyone here, and Samuels is smart enough to not always use sympathy as a vehicle for likability. Stanfield’s Cherokee Bill is a despicable henchmen, one who hypocritically denounces violence but is quick to implement it on his enemies, and is ruthless when he doles it out without the slightest regard for rules of engagement. He’s the kind of guy you should absolutely HATE in a western like this, as he’s essentially “Tombstone’s” Ringo as far as story goes. And yet, you can’t help but root for Cherokee Bill. Yes, he’s clearly on the wrong side of the inevitable face off, but you just kind of want him to make it out of all of it even when he’s pitted against the similarly likable Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler).

And that’s one of the many things that sets “The Harder They Fall” so unique. Even when you’re rooting against the “bad guys,” the narrative and characters are complex enough to where you’re not really sure you WANT to see the final gunfight. It’s so wonderfully crafted and performed that it becomes difficult in the best of ways to choose sides. Yes, the story is clear as to who you should root for, but you truly enjoy everyone in the film so much that when the bullets start flying in the third act, you don’t really want anyone on any side to catch one. There’s no one performance that stands out above the rest, and that’s a compliment to everyone. Every single actor cements themselves as a capable, complex actor who are up to just about any task that’s ask of them.

I could probably rave about this film for ages, so for the sake of word count and not dragging on too long, let’s do a quick speed round on some small highlights. Jonathan Majors once again proves he’s a diverse and brilliant actor, able to take on challenging and unique roles without ever being the same person twice. This could be said about everyone in the film, but Majors is a personal favorite stand out. I need him to get as many roles as possible because I want to see him in everything. Samuel’s is brilliant in his visuals, with one scene particular wonderfully capturing the racism and segregation of the wild wild west. Instead of assaulting viewers with an obvious message, Samuel sends his main characters who are black into a “white town” to rob a “white” bank. Instead of just filling the town with white extras who disgustingly look down on black people in their neighborhood, Samuels instead paints the entire town in white. The buildings, the people, even the very ground they ride in on are all painted off white, with our heroes Nate Love (Majors) and Cuffey (Danielle Deadwyler) decked out in bright, vibrant colors like red and green.

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It’s this kind of subtly cinematography and backdrop juxtaposition to demonstrate racial and social norms of the time that elevates “The Harder They Fall” beyond just another western. Its premise may be generic and relatively predictable, but the execution is so expert it forces its viewers to recognize the subtle social commentary buried beneath the surface. Case in point: “The Harder They Fall” is a beautifully crafted and expertly executed western with far more depth that gunslinging standoffs and typically saloons. Additionally, the film is highly stylized in a way that can’t be separated from previous outings like “Django Unchained.” Everything from their modern use of profanity to the contemporary soundtrack makes the film a wonderful period piece told through a contemporary lens.

If there are any criticisms, they’re nitpicking at best. Some may be inclined to point out the historical inaccuracies of very real people portrayed in the film. Real life Nate Love, Stagecoach Mary and even Rufus Buck all have very different historical lives, and their history is drastically rewritten in “The Harder They Fall.” But historical accuracy is seldom the necessity for good filmmaking. Rewriting history (if done correctly) rarely gets in the way of enjoyment, and I find it very suspicious that there are so many Nat Love historians out there eagerly waiting to call people out on their misrepresentative of an obscure, real life outlaw. Also, the film makes it very clear that it isn’t attempting to recount actual history. It only seeks to tell a unique, engaging story using real life people as the vehicle. It’s worth shedding your need for historical accuracy in order access a really well made and well acted film like “The Harder They Fall.

I simply can’t recommend this film enough. “The Harder They Fall” is just damn good filmmaking. Everything from its powerhouse cast to brilliant cinematography to expert execution from its director is top notch, and frankly both Netflix and the box office are in need of more films like this. I know we don’t like to take too many risks because they’re seldom profitable, but this is exactly the kind of risk you need to support so that more studios and streaming services will take a chance on them.

Load your six shooters and count to five, because “The Harder They Fall” is a classic revenge story with a quick draw for excellence. It needs to be seen, and will hopefully usher in a new era of more films like this one.

The Harder They Fall” is currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer below.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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