The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall ★★★½

Review by David Ehrlich

Jeymes Samuel’s “The Harder They Fall” is a dynamite Black Western that doesn’t waste any time putting its cards on the table. “While the events of this story are fictional…” reads the opening scrawl, “These. People. Existed.” The point couldn’t be clearer: This tense, propulsive, and ultra-glossy Netflix oater might lay a thick new Jay-Z track over the opening credits (of a film that he also produced) and assemble an Avengers-worthy team of obscure Black icons from across the entire 19th century into a single explosive shootout, but Samuel has little interest in letting his film be ascribed to fantasy or lumped in with the rest of its genre’s revisionist streak.

On the contrary, “The Harder They Fall” seems determined to correct the record. Manifest Destiny may have been a uniquely Anglo-Saxon concept, but white people weren’t alone in the westward expansion that followed the Civil War — no matter what the vast majority of movies about that time period would have you believe. In fact, many historians estimate that more than a quarter of the era’s cowboys were Black, and so the idea of making a straightforward Western about two rival factions of African-American outlaws shouldn’t require any stretch of the imagination. This isn’t “Hamilton.” A revenge saga about Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) hunting down the ruthless man who killed his parents (Idris Elba) isn’t woke just because Hollywood has been sleepwalking through the same blinkered vision of the past since the glory days of John Ford.