I can’t get enough of modern westerns. The spaghetti western subgenre completely changed the playing field, turning the period of history on its head and focusing on the bloodier underbelly rarely explored in the courageous Hollywood tales of yore. The Harder They Fall isn’t just a sterile homage to that era of disarray though; it’s something original entirely.
With a tale of revenge at its heart (Nat Love, played by Jonathan Majors, watched his family die at the hands of Rufus Buck, which is where Idris Elba comes in), The Harder They Fall gets moving very quickly, and bares its rawness and style immediately without messing around. It’s a spaghetti western, revelling in ultraviolence, but with the level of talent involved it never goes overboard. And it’s also hilarious!
The Harder They Fall has a unique sense of style that doesn’t feel like it’s cribbing from anything in particular: it’s setting the trend. Nearly every character is worth caring about, makes an entrance, and sticks with you until the end of the film. How director Jeymes Samuel and company managed to get this cast together in one project is a tale for the ages.
Idris Elba is a compelling lead for so many reasons. He not only has the chops to pull off a dramatic turn, but he’s also imposing enough to command the screen and any action scenes therein. On the other side is Jonathan Majors, another immensely talented presence that can match Elba at every turn.
“The Harder They Fall also slows down when it needs to, allowing the atmosphere and background noise to serve as its own degree of tension.”
What feels like every 15 minutes you get another striking character intro, coupled with fantastic camerawork, and you’re invested all over again in yet another collective of cast members. I can see how the emphasis on style (and some choices like cross-cutting) would turn people off, but Samuel is keen to keep people’s eyes glued to the screen and does it masterfully. It’s hard to believe this is his first feature film.
All its themes are echoed by a compelling anachronistic soundtrack that somehow always fits. It brings us into the action scenes and draws us into the world as a whole. The Harder They Fall also slows down when it needs to, allowing the atmosphere and background noise to serve as its own degree of tension.
Now there’s a limit to that nonstop approach. Not every plot point or lore bit lands equally, and in the final act, The Harder They Fall loses a bit of steam. But every moment getting there was absolutely worth it. By the time those shortcomings actually hit, the cast had already had its fill of electrifying moments.
With a strong character-driven throughput, The Harder They Fall will keep people more engaged than a lot of other two-hour-plus-westerns. It’s flashy for sure, but it’s also human. As the film posits at the start, these particular characters might be fictional, but they’re either inspired by or amalgamations of real people, created to tell a specific story by a collective of creators that actually care about them.
In a cynical era of streaming service franchises and character factories pumping out products as merchandise, it’s a rare sight.