'The Harder They Fall' Has the Fastest Gun in the West

Directed by Jeymes Samuel

Starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Damon Wayans Jr.

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 20, 2021

Cold-blooded revenge, quick-draw duels, a sheriff, and bandits who hold up a train — The Harder They Fall is very much a traditional Western, but it still adds just enough modern flair to feel fresh despite its devotion to the genre.

Subverting the whiteness and racism of so many Westerns, nearly the entire cast is Black, with characters loosely based on real-life 19th century cowboy and outlaw figures. Jonathan Majors leads the action as the charming rascal Nat Love, who is seeking revenge against the sinister Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) for murdering his parents many years earlier. LaKeith Stanfield is perfectly subdued as the the ruthless henchman Cherokee Bill, while RJ Cyler (as the fast-talking gunslinger Jim Beckwourth) and Zazie Beetz (as the strong-willed Stagecoach Mary) bring humour and charisma to their supporting roles.

The loud, glitzy soundtrack crosses Hollywood orchestrations with sleek hip-hop, while the Old West sets are so bright and pristine that they practically look like an Old West exhibition at Disneyland. The mashup of old and new extends to the actors' accents: RJ Cyler makes no attempt to disguise his modern slang, while Danielle Deadwyler (as Cuffee) adopts a retro drawl, and the usually excellent Regina King (as "Treacherous Trudy" Smith) slightly awkwardly lands somewhere in between. Idris Elba has relatively few lines, but he has a massive presence, with a gruff baritone that's carefully controlled yet totally menacing. Not that a great performance from Elba should be of any surprise, but he's in particularly fine form here, striking a balance between the ruthless restraint of Stringer Bell and the fiery anger of John Luther.

Director Jeymes Samuel a.k.a. the Bullits, making his feature-length debut, take cues from the stylized Western gore of Tarantino and the glowering stoicism of Clint Eastwood. And even if the film sags a bit in the middle of its more-than-two-hour runtime, the satisfying ending wraps it up in a way that plays into genre traditions without feeling contrived. The Harder They Fall tips its hat to Western tropes but isn't confined by them, making for an imperfect but totally engaging ride through cowboy country.

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