‘The Harder They Fall’ is a western action drama that follows a tale of revenge. After watching his parents get brutally murdered at the hands of a notorious outlaw, Nat Love grows up looking to avenge his family. Moonlighting as a self-righteous outlaw himself, the man disposes of his enemies until he finally comes face to face with the notorious gang leader responsible for his parents’ death.
The film centers on a host of truly remarkable characters who, unlike conventional westerns, each have rich backstories and independent identities. It is set in a time when bank robberies and standoffs are the norms, which makes it a conducive backdrop for the film’s very violent, highly skilled sharpshooters. So just how much of what we see in ‘The Harder They Fall’ actually occurred in real life? We decided to find out.
Is The Harder They Fall Based on a True Story?
No, ‘The Harder They Fall’ is not based on a true story. The film is based on a fictional script co-written by the director Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin. In fact, the film opens with a caption saying that the events depicted are fictitious. However, many of the stories of the characters take partial inspiration from real-life events and people. The film’s writers have also reimagined some well-known outlaws from the time and weaved them into the narrative, creating a rich tapestry of interesting characters that are anchored by well-thought-out motives and backstories.
Samuel attributes the film to his lifetime fascination with westerns and a need to widen the scope of the genre. He explained how the westerns he grew up watching generally centered around a few popular themes and characters and never really explored broader narratives. He, therefore, set out to make a film that rejected such narrow perspectives and instead tried to imbibe the rich “human experience” into his story. He also wanted to make his movie more inclusive and not just portray women and people of color as subservient characters (as is the case with most films in the western genre). Consequently, ‘The Harder They Fall’ features multiple strong female characters and a stellar cast that is predominantly Black.
The film’s director also claims to take inspiration from a range of directors, most notably Spike Lee. In fact, there is a scene in ‘The Harder They Fall’ wherein Regina King’s character does the same iconic motion with her hand as the titular character in Lee’s 1992 biographical drama ‘Malcolm X.’ Samuel has also drawn inspiration from stories narrated to him by the iconic entertainer Jay-Z, who is one of the film’s producers. In fact, Jay-Z and Samuel apparently had detailed discussions about the characters and their motives while the latter was writing the script. Similarly, Idris Elba, who essays the central antagonist, also spent time with the director fleshing out the film’s characters.
Interestingly, Elba’s character Rufus Buck is a reimagination of a real-life outlaw of the same name who headed the notorious Rufus Buck Gang. Much like in the film, the real-life gang was a multi-racial group consisting of African American and Creek Indian members. However, since the gang portrayed in the movie is a reimagination, there are many differences to its real-life counterpart.
Most notably, perhaps, is that the real Rufus Buck Gang was active for a relatively short time between 1895 and 1896 around the Arkansas and Oklahoma areas. In the film, Rufus Buck is an active criminal with a gang for over thirty years. The real Rufus Buck was only eighteen years old at the height of his notoriety. Other characters in the film, like Nat Love, Bass Reeves, and Cherokee Bill are also similarly inspired by real-life counterparts.
‘The Harder They Fall’ is, therefore, a fictional tale that attempts to broaden the horizons of the western film genre. Samuel claims that his approach to making it was to basically “forget” that his movie is a western and narrate the story as best he can. Combined with the well-thought-out characters, whose motives and backstories have been carefully fleshed out, the film successfully paints a rich and gritty picture of the human experience while being predominantly fictional.
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