When it comes to American cinema, very few genres encapsulate the struggles and freedoms of the United States like the classic western. “The Harder They Fall,” directed by Jeymes Samuel, is the latest entry to the western genre. While the film has many classic tropes of westerns it fails to deliver that authentic “Wild West” feel, instead presenting itself as a failed combination of many genres. Even with the star-studded cast and solid cinematography, “The Harder They Fall” is hardly a film worth watching.
The strongest parts of the film by far are two main performances. Jonathan Majors, from “Lovecraft Country” and “Loki,” plays the film’s protagonist, Nat Love. Majors is wonderful in the role, but his performance often overshadows his castmates and makes their acting feel forced and stilted. Majors tries to carry scenes of heavy emotion and depth, but these moments suffer due to the lackluster acting of the people alongside him.
Idris Elba stars as the film’s villain, Rufus Buck. While Elba and Majors both deliver quality performances, not even their natural charisma and effort can save this mess of a movie. Other notable performances include Lakeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, and Zazie Beetz as Mary Fields. Sadly, these two are reduced to little more than supporting characters who rarely contribute to the plot’s progression.
Where the film suffers is in a plethora of ways, between the soundtrack issues and nonsensical way that action unfolds, it’s hard to determine where the larger issue lies. Many scenes are inexplicably edited with heavily remixed rap songs and electronic beats, blatantly ignoring the setting that is established. These songs also drag on for minutes in several spots, and at times it feels more like watching a music video than a 2021 western.
The music isn’t the largest issue either, with the action being almost cartoonish in many scenes meant to excite and raise tension. People fly back 7-10 feet when shot, and sometimes they even hover in the air inexplicably like they can somehow fly during shootouts. As a result, the film feels more like a comedy, or a music video, or a failed Tarantino rip-off.
It’s hard to say “The Harder They Fall” is even a western, as many of the directorial decisions are puzzling and cause the quality of the movie to suffer.
Even with the strong performances from the main two characters, there are very few benefits to watching “The Harder They Fall.”
If you want a traditional western, or a deep and engaging film, don’t watch this one. I would recommend “Tombstone” or “Django Unchained” over this film any day of the week. If you’re a fan of cartoonish violence, nonsensical lines that often feel cliche and somewhat bland, and “true stories” that have nothing more than names of real figures, then this is the film for you.