A cursory google reveals that the real Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) and Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) were very different figures than those who make hyper-dramatic first impressions in Jeymes Samuel’s hyper-violent, hyper-stylised Western – indeed, the legendary Black outlaws appear never to have crossed paths, and a young Love certainly did not lose his parents to Buck’s mysterious vendetta. But The Harder They Fall immediately makes a play for swagger and bombast, filling the frame with gilt pistols and technicolour saloons as it sets its larger-than-life protagonists and their equally charismatic gangs against each other. Personal scores, family trauma, bank robberies, and sometimes nothing more than gunslinging glory drive the plot towards an inevitable pulse-raising showdown. Facts matter little up against fiction and fun. 

The Harder They Fall oozes charm, introducing its ensemble cast in a pulpy montage that every member lives up to in performance. The richly coloured visuals and hip hop soundtrack finds roots in Samuel’s accomplished short film and music video work, and anachronistic costume touches celebrate this joyous fiction. With style to spare, the lacklustre dialogue sticks out – especially midway through the film when it becomes the sole conveyance of plot. The actors – especially Elba, Regina King, and Zazie Beetz – elevate the film when left to silence. 

One of the film’s best visual gags involves a “white” town, and no white actors appear in anything other than cursory roles. The centrality of Black actors in this maximally escapist example of the ultimate escapist genre seems cause for celebration.

The Harder They Fall is style over substance – with depth aimed at characters outside Major’s Love and Elba’s Buck falling flat. But its two leading men bring gravitas, poignancy, and credibility to their biggest, boldest twists, and the film never dampens the supporting cast’s magnetism. Go for a grand time. 



CAST: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield

DIRECTOR: Jeymes Samuel

WRITERS: Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin

SYNOPSIS: Legendary outlaw Nat Love is out for vengeance against the men who killed his family, and one robbery and prison break set him on a collision course with Rufus Buck’s ruthless gang.