The Harder They Fall is a classic Western – except it’s not. The main cast is Black, based on real Black people who lived in the old West. However, they never lived this story, which is all fiction. Now on Netflix, the film tells a story of gang rivalry, revenge, and love.
The Harder They Fall uses all the great Western techniques. Sweeping panoramas against blue skies, gangsters stopping trains and robbing banks, gun battles on dusty streets, towns full of armed killers on one side or another of a long-term disagreement. On the other hand, the music is 100% modern.
The cast was outstanding, but I was really there to see the women characters. Regina King as Trudy Smith was terrific. She was part of a group led by Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). That gang included Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) and numerous others.
Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) led the rival gang of outlaws. They were after revenge against Rufus Buck and got his attention by taking the money from a bank robbery that was meant to be his.
You could say I went into the movie for Regina King, but I stayed for Zazie Beetz.
With Nat Love were Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler). Nat Love was supported by the saloon owner Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz), who was also Nat’s love interest. Mary had a bouncer, a tiny butch woman named Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), who was as tough as any man. Cuffee was also in love with Mary Fields. A U.S. Marshall, Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), was helping out this gang.
In the middle between these two gangs was the Sheriff Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole), who didn’t have a side except his own. And dynamite. He had dynamite.
There were lots of iconic moments and scenes but my favorite part of the film was the epic fight between Trudy Smith and Mary Fields. Best fight scene between two women I’ve seen in a long time. It was filmed in a room full of brightly colored cloth drying on lines and vats of dye. It was brutal and gorgeous.
You could say I went into the movie for Regina King, but I stayed for Zazie Beetz. It was fun to see much-loved Black actors in roles that you don’t normally see them doing. And they did it in Stetsons (and top hats and bowlers) on horseback.
There were moments of humor, call outs and homages to other films and African American heroes, songs, and interpretive dances.
The Harder They Fall was two hours and 10 minutes long. It felt very long. There were pauses that made it feel even more slow. I would have appreciated a bit of tightening up, but when you’re making the first all Black Western you want to work it for all it’s worth. Who knows when a chance like this will happen again?