A visceral swagger of the 19th Century (Old West) is on view from British helmsman Jeymes Samuel to put black outlaws and their cronies front and center. These people existed is emphasized in a snappy opening.
The Harder They Fall is an invitation to see folks like Rufus Buck, Nat Love, Cherokee Bill, Bill Pickett, and Stagecoach Mary cross paths in a melange of fact and what-ifs, as well as tropes. If you consider the spaghetti western and Jamaican reggae music, for example, as Caucasians stay mostly on the fringe.
With Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) as a co-producer with Samuels, the latter multi-hyphenate uses the influences of Mario Van Peebles, Sidney Poitier, Mel Brooks, and Quentin Tarantino in sizable bombast. To expose some of the nomads who traversed desert, mountain, and plain areas in Texas using a bit of an insouciant tone for entertaining effect.
Two actions will eventually collide because of what an incarcerated Rufus, a quietly menacing Idris Elba, murderously did to a scarred Nat (Jonathan Majors of The Last Black Man in San Francisco) as a child.
A robbery and rescue from the Army begins to set things in motion as colorful characters intersect. There’s Nat’s saloon proprietor ‘girlfriend’ Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz of Joker), terse Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield of Get Out), stalwart lawman Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo of Da 5 Bloods), and Trudy Smith (a viciously poised Regina King of If Beale Street Could Talk).
The story does take its deep breaths from violent interludes in a less than propulsive manner on route to an explosive climax than isn’t as dynamic as intended. Yet, a contemporary, more diverse riff has a lot to express through hardly any sympathetic types. The emotional underpinnings surrounding nat and Buck, two disparate gunslingers, doesn’t provide the necessary resonance in spite of the committed charisma of Majors, and especially Elba, especially what has transpired regarding Buck later and his backing for the community of Redwood.
Even if The Harder They Fall really doesn’t buck that many mainstream trends to instill more singularity to a genre ripe with remakes, a crammed, lurid revisionism has its broad and brawny moments. When a ‘town’ is visited and a train is stormed it swirls in the sharpest ways as realized by Samuel (known as ‘The Bullitt’ and co-writer Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans).