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The Harder They Fall

This week we’ve ridden off to the rootin’, tootin’ wild west of Netflix and returned triumphant with a star studded budget busting Western to review for you. The Harder They Fall, written and directed by Jeymes Samuel is now available to stream via Netflix, after much hype. But does it live up to it, or is it all talk and no (leather) trousers? Read on to find out what two of our writers thought…

Alex

I don’t know if it’s just me, but Westerns are weird. I think they occupy such a gimmicky part of pop culture that it makes it odd to take them seriously sometimes. Have you, or anyone close to you in your life played a lot of Red Dead Redemption? Because if so, this film is going to be eerily reminiscent of it. 

That all being said, I enjoyed The Harder They Fall. It’s an entertaining, fun romp through the desert with a famous black actor in almost every main role. Their talent throughout is undeniable, and they are absolutely crucial to the best parts of this film. Regina King is always a favourite of mine, as is Lakeith Stanfield, and they do not disappoint. Of course, Idris Elba is a big draw to this movie, and he broods in silence just as much as you’re expecting him too. 

There’s an interesting additional dimension to The Harder They Fall in the interrogation of the racial dynamic. When I saw the premise, I thought this might be a Hamilton-esque casting decision, allowing black actors centre stage in a genre where they are often even further marginalised. This would have been a fine move – but what the creators of this film do is much more skilful. The Harder They Fall isn’t a Western that happens to have black actors; it is a Black Western. From the musical choices to Rufus Buck’s motivation of building ‘Redwood’ as a kind of idealised promised land free from white oppression, the whites in power hover in the periphery throughout. The set choice of the white town being literally white was a personal highlight. The fact that these are all real historical figures who I’d never heard of before is the icing on the cake. The Harder They Fall is carving out a space for itself, and I commend it for that.

There is something I struggle to get past, however. This film is too long. Around the hour and ten minute mark, it stalls, and I felt a lot like the plot was being dragged out. I wanted to invest emotionally in these characters, but with the number of long serious stares involved I began to find points comical that definitely weren’t intended to be. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of comedy where it suits and The Harder They Fall certainly has light moments to balance out the violence. But this middle section drags – the antagonists seem too powerful, our protagonists too weak and a final somewhat happy resolution implausible. Towards the end I was starting to predict exactly what would happen and when. The Harder They Fall is full of tropes, which I think is something the creators weren’t trying to shy away from. Perhaps if I was a huge Western fan, these would have been familiar favourites, but instead I just got a little bored. 

The Harder They Fall is a good film, but it’s not a great film. If you’re intrigued by the trailer I’d give it a watch, but broadly speaking, it does exactly what it says on the tin. And it’s a very predictable tin. 

A still from the movie. A menacing row of cowboys stand in a row, guns on hips. Behind them is a wooden house, its slats painted bright white.
“Is that a pistol in your holster or are you pleased to see me?”

Ruby

The Harder They Fall is a fast-paced, heavy and all around fun modern Western. I loved the combination of nostalgia and modern language and music. It felt a little like an upcycling of a dusty out of date genre. Growing up, Westerns had always been an accompanying background noise to visiting older family members; I never paid particular attention to the stories because they felt so far away from myself, something of a different time and world. Old Westerns feel like a staple of the older generation, almost like the less cinematic super-hero Marvel movies of the past. In contrast, The Harder They Fall felt intensely stylish and attention-grabbing. 

Soon after the film starts we are given the evocative line, “While the events of this story are fictional. These. People. Existed.” Whilst cinematic and potentially exaggerated (in line with traditional Westerns) Samuel seeks to correct the misconception that people of colour were not participating in the drama of the old west: these stories are equally fascinating and worthy of screen time. 

Stylistically, the film felt very Tarantino-esque. It is bloody and overtly violent, but still manages to be fun and cartoon-ish. I love love loved Nat Love’s early line: “I’m worth ten.” It sets the tone for the film as comedic and confident. The traditional archetypal themes of justice are still there; however, this is given greater complexity with the justice it provides in the real world to untold histories. 

I would definitely recommend The Harder They Fall. Both for those looking for an action packed Western adventure, and for those looking for something distinctly unique. It is a fantastic renovation and re-complexifying of an old-fashioned, fading genre.

The Harder They Fall is available to stream now via Netflix.

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