The western action thriller The Harder They Fall is the #1 movie on Netflix right now, and for good reason. In his feature film debut, Jeymes Samuel reimagined the classic western with an old-fashioned adventure featuring epic gunfights between ruthless outlaws and noble lawmen. While the influences are classic, The Harder They Fall is unique among westerns with its all-Black ensemble. The film features one of the year’s best casts, and while the events are fictional, the characters are inspired by actual historical figures.
Here is your guide to who’s who in The Harder They Fall.
One of the most exciting young stars on the rise, Jonathan Majors just joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Kang the Conqueror with a brief cameo in Loki’s season finale. Majors’ character Nat Love leads a more merciful band of outlaws that form a shaky alliance with the law in order to track down the Buck gang and bring them to justice. The character was inspired by a real ex-slave turned cowboy of the same name. Majors can also be seen in Da 5 Bloods, The Last Black Man In San Francisco, Hostiles, and his Emmy-nominated role in Lovecraft Country.
One of the best actors working today, Idris Elba has given a wide range of performances since his breakout turn on The Wire. He takes on the villainous role of Rufus Buck, a real criminal that led a gang of mercenaries in the Indian Territory of the Arkansas-Oklahoma border amidst the 1890s. Buck’s brutality is evident from the gripping opening scene of The Harder They Fall. Elba’s filmography is incredibly diverse, but some of his best roles include Luther, Molly’s Game, Pacific Rim, Beasts of No Nation, and the Thor trilogy.
One of the many breakout stars of Atlanta, Zazie Beetz has made the transition to film with a series of great recent performances. She gives another in The Harder They Fall as Stagecoach Mary, a saloon owner who joins Nat’s group as they track down The Buck gang. The real Mary Fields was the first African-American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service, but in the film she’s an action hero and Nat’s former girlfriend. Some of Beetz’s other recent memorable film roles include Deadpool 2, Joker, Nine Days, High Flying Bird, and Dead Pigs.
Fresh off of her acclaimed directorial debut One Night in Miami…, Regina King returns to the front of the screen with her performance as the real outlaw “Treacherous Trudy.” While in actuality she wasn’t part of the Buck gang, Trudy was loosely based on a real-life convicted killer named Gertrude Smith. In the film, Trudy breaks Buck out of prison and joins his quest to retake their hometown of Redwood. King’s greatest performances include Watchmen, The Leftovers, If Beale Street Could Talk, Boyz n the Hood, American Crime, and Seven Seconds.
Delroy Lindo earned some of the best reviews of his career last year with his acclaimed turn in Da 5 Bloods, for which he was notoriously snubbed of an Oscar nomination. Lindo’s string of powerful roles continues with his performance as the first Black marshall in the western U.S. territories, Bass Reeves. Reeves recruits Love’s gang to assist him in retaking Redwood from the Buck gang. You can check out more of Lindo’s great work in Malcolm X, Clockers, Crooklyn, Get Shorty, and The Cider House Rules.
Lakeith Stanfield is one of the great character actors of his generation, and always manages to do something different with each role. He takes on one of the most overtly villainous roles of his career as the real criminal known as “Cherokee Bill,” distinguished for his half-African, half-Cherokee heritage. Cherokee Bill is a smooth-talking, quick-to-draw murderer who aids Trudy in breaking Rufus out of captivity in the film’s exciting heist sequence. For a different side of Stanfield, check out his roles in Atlanta, Knives Out, Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Sorry to Bother You.
26-year-old RJ Cyler has amassed an impressive filmography at a young age and more than earns the right to join the stacked ensemble of The Harder They Fall. While the real Jim Beckwourth was an escaped slave who became a legendary mountain man, the film depicts him as a sharpshooting gunslinger and one of Nat’s closest friends. Jim’s bragging occasionally gets the group into trouble, but he matches his confidence with quick problem-solving abilities. Cyler’s diverse set of roles include Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Power Rangers, White Boy Rick, Black Lightning, and Power Rangers.
Danielle Deadwyler is a highly successful stage performer, and she’s entered the screen world with roles in several buzz-worthy television projects. Her character Cuffee is modeled after Cathay Williams, the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Army. Like the real Cathay, Cuffee disguises herself as a man, but in The Harder They Fall her military experience isn’t explored. She’s depicted as a love interest to Mary, and aids Love during a bank robbery in one of the film’s most memorable sequences. Deadwyler also had memorable roles in Watchmen and Atlanta, and she’ll next be seen in Station Eleven.
Edi Gathegi has delivered many great performances across both television and film, and takes on another fascinating character as Love’s sharpshooter Bill Pickett. In the film, Bill is renowned for his expert marksmanship, but the real historical figure was famous for a much different reason. The actual Bill Pickett was a rodeo performer and stage actor in Wild West-themed traveling shows, and even earned an induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1989. Gathegi’s past roles include StartUp, X-Men: First Class, Gone Baby Gone, Into the Badlands, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
The Harder They Fall also features Deon Cole as Wiley Escoe, Damon Wayans Jr. as Monroe Grimes, DeWanda Wise as Eleanor Love, and Julio Cesar Cedillo as Cortez.
Jeymes Samuel’s Netflix movie has style to spare, but fails to invest any depth into its characters or story.
Liam Gaughan is a film and TV writer at Collider. He has been writing film reviews and news coverage for eight years with bylines at Dallas Observer, About.com, Taste of Cinema, Dallas Morning News, Schmoes Know, Rebel Scum, and Central Track. He aims to get his spec scripts produced and currently writes short films and stage plays. He lives in McKinney, TX.