The Harder They Fall is a new Netflix film that shoots holes in the myth of the American cowboy perpetuated by westerns of old. For decades the films of the genre have continuously focused on stories featuring white protagonists helping create a collective image of what a cowboy looks like. This image is wrong however and just as imaginary as The Marlboro Man mascot one would find on a pack of cigarettes.
Before The Harder They Fall’s opening credits it opens with the statement “While the events of this story are fictional…These. People. Existed.” This statement serves two purposes: not only telling the viewer that the main characters share names with real-life Black historical figures (Andrew R. Chow at Time has a great overview of these figures), but also telling the audience that Black Cowboys and Cowgirls existed in the west too.
The film, directed by Jeymes Samuel, takes these historical figures and remixes them into an original story. It follows Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), a man who is put on a collision course with a man from his past named Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and his gang. He then assembles a rag-tag group of his own to get revenge.
Taking part in this narrative is a stacked ensemble. Not just including Majors and Elba, the film includes Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, and Delroy Lindo, and many more not named here. With so many heavy hitter performers in the film, you may be worried that they each won’t get time to show their acting prowess. Luckily this isn’t the case however with Samuel still finding time to highlight each individual actor.
Samuel brings a lot of style and competent directing to The Harder They Fall. In one particular scene, a tense negotiation is viewed in a comic book-like split-screen view ratcheting up the intensity for the viewer. Samuel’s visual flair is also mixed with a great soundtrack which was created specifically for the movie and is fitting as the creator has been involved in the music industry in many forms. The movie also features many stylistic nods to westerns of the past from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to ones more contemporary such as Django Unchained which will surely satisfy any longtime fans of the genre.
Samuel also directs some well-choreographed action scenes including gunfights and hand-to-hand combat all with great sound design and steady-handed direction which certainly keeps things exciting.
All-in-all this makes Netflix’s The Harder They Fall one of the hidden surprises of the year. Not only is it well-crafted, but the film helps show that despite history often ignoring Black cowboys and Black cowgirls, they were always there and their stories deserve to be told.
You can stream The Harder They Fall now on Netflix.