‘The Harder They Fall’ movie review: A spectacular feature film debut from Jeymes Samuel

This The Harder They Fall movie review is a spoiler-free look at Jeymes Samuel’s Western starring Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba.

It really doesn’t take much—if anything—to convince me to watch an Idris Elba movie. He always brings his A-game to the table, and I had no doubt that The Harder They Fall would be more of the same.

Then I watched the trailer and knew I was going to love it. Westerns might not be at the top of the list for me, but I love a good action movie, and this cast looked absolutely steller.

The point of this The Harder They Fall movie review is to tell you this film is worth every second of your time. In fact, I’ve already watched it twice, and it’s held my attention both times. I couldn’t look away. It’s already become one of my favorite movies of the last year or so.

It starts and ends with the main players. I expected Idris Elba to dominate the screen, and he did so in every sense of the word. His character, Rufus Buck, doesn’t say a whole lot over the course of the film, but people tend to listen to him. Maybe it’s because he lets his gun do most of the talking.

Now, I know Rufus is the bad guy here. The opening scene illustrates what kind of man he is, and there’s no arguing with that. But like every great villain, he’s the hero of his own story, and his goals aren’t necessarily evil, even if his methods are.

It reminds me a lot of Killmonger from Black Panther. You know he’s not supposed to win in the end, but you’re kind of sad when he loses, regardless.

And it’s not just Rufus Buck, but his entire gang. He’s flanked by Regina King as Trudy Smith and LaKeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, both of which are as deadly as they are entertaining.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking Regina King is one of the most incredible actors in Hollywood right now. She’s known for plenty of roles, but Watchmen was a game-changer for me, and I love seeing her kick ass.

Trudy is terrifying. Honestly, I found her even more unsettling than Rufus Buck. Like most of the other gang members, she’s got a calm demeanor that belies the violence in her blood. She’s not afraid of anyone, and you can see her relish the pain she inflicts on people.

Again, I know she’s technically the bad guy here, but I can’t help it—I love a woman who can laugh in someone’s face while staring down the barrel of their gun.

We round out this trio with Cherokee Bill. More and more often, LaKeith Stanfield has been popping up in movies that interest me, and I’ve enjoyed his choices every step of the way.

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In The Harder They Fall, Cherokee Bill is supposed to be the fastest gunslinger in the West. But unlike some other characters that I’ll get to later, he doesn’t feel the need to prove it. In fact, he tries to avoid violence at all costs.

But don’t go making him the hero because he’s certainly not. I loved his quiet and polite tone of voice, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason why he’s standing next to Rufus and Trudy. He’s not exactly going to win a gold star for being a nice guy.

If you’ve made it this far into my The Harder They Fall movie review, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about the actual heroes of the film. Trust me when I say, I’m not picking sides here. It’s a testament to everyone’s performances that I empathized with all of them.

Jonathan Majors leads the Nat Love gang as the man himself. I was first introduced to him via Lovecraft Country and was delighted when he entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am ready to see a whole lot more of this man.

As Nat Love, he doesn’t shy away from violence, but he’s also quiet and soft around the edges. He’s spent his entire life going after everyone who’s done him wrong (not least Rufus Buck for killing his parents), but it hasn’t stopped him from falling in love with Mary (Zazie Beetz).

Where Rufus is terrifying, Nat is charming. They’re equally dangerous, and both have their own selfish reasons for fighting the fight, but the Nat Love gang has some morals, and that sets them apart from Rufus and his ilk.

the harder they fall nat love gang

Edi Gathegi and RJ Cyler play Bill Pickett and Jim Beckwourth, respectively. These two add a lot of humor to the film, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. I thought The Harder They Fall was going to be all violence and anger and revenge, but there are a lot of quiet moments, too. Times where I found myself genuinely laughing at Beckwourth’s antics and Pickett’s exasperation.

Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee added another interesting element to this film. While there’s no clarification about exactly how her character identifies, Cuffee is based off of a non-binary person from history. They certainly don’t dress or act like a lady of the times, and it’s only talked about near the end of the movie, for a specific and relevant reason, but otherwise accepted without question.

That amount of inclusivity, especially for a movie that takes place in the 1800s, meant a lot, and the character was just as fierce and dangerous as any of the others.

The last character I want to talk about in my The Harder They Fall movie review is Mary, played by Zazie Beetz. She’s tough as nails and doesn’t put up with bullshit from Nat Love or anyone else. She’s owns several bars and has established herself as someone who’s as down with having a good time as she is with taking care of business.

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About halfway through the film, Mary is taken prisoner, and if the other women in the film weren’t so established, I’d have an issue with Nat needing to come to her rescue. As it is, Mary can handle her own, and she doesn’t exactly sit around and let the men fight her battles. She and Trudy get down and dirty like the rest of them, and it was beyond satisfying to watch that play out on screen.

As much as I love film, I tend to focus on story rather than the mechanics of the cinematography. I don’t think about how a shot is created or what choices the director has made to convey a certain message because—for me, at least—that often blends in seamlessly with the story, and I’m able to just sit back and enjoy the show.

That wasn’t the case with The Harder They Fall, and I mean that in the best way possible. From the wide-angle shots of the Wild West to the closeups of all our favorite characters, there are snapshots from this movie that will live inside my brain for as long as I live. Jeymes Samuel created a piece of art here, and I was all too happy to consume it.

But it wasn’t just what Samuel chose to do with the camera. I knew I loved the music in this movie—the way it felt current and yet still relevant to what was happening on screen—but even more so when I learned Samuel wrote all of the songs for the film.

When I watch a movie, I don’t always track down the director to see what else they’ve done, but I needed to know more about Jeymes Samuel. I was impressed that this was his feature film debut, but doubly so when I realized he was also a singer/songwriter known as The Bullitts. No wonder the music was such a fantastic fit for the story.

There are so many reasons to love this film, and I feel like my The Harder They Fall movie review only scratches the surface. It’s a good story, with interesting characters and plenty of action that doesn’t detract from the emotional heart at its foundation.

Even if Westerns normally aren’t your cup of tea, this movie speaks to something much deeper, especially because all the main characters in the film are based on real people. Hearing Samuel and Majors talk about the creation of this movie and these characters makes it impossible not to appreciate the film even more than I already do.

Watch ‘The Harder They Fall’ on Netflix

Be sure to check out our other movie reviews for more film recommendations.