THE HARDER THEY FALL*CUT TO THE CHASE*
The opening text states that while the events of the film are fictional, the people portrayed in it really did exist.
A young Nat Love (Chase Dillon) is about to have dinner with his parents, when they are visited by an outlaw gang led by Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Nat’s father recognizes Rufus and pleads with him to leave his wife and son out of whatever grudge he holds with the senior Love. Rufus shoots wife Eleanor (DeWanda Wise) in the chest before firing at him. Nat screams as he watches his parents die before Rufus carves a cross symbol into his forehead.
Years later in Salinas, Texas, Nat (now played by Jonathan Majors) is an outlaw himself, going after more deadly criminals. He tracks down a former cohort of Rufus’s, Jesus Cortez (Julio Cesar Cedillo). Cortez recognizes Nat, but before he can kill the man, Nat draws first and shoots Cortez dead. He tells the pastor of the church where they had their standoff to call and collect the bounty on Cortez. Nat would do it himself, but he is worth more to the law.
Elsewhere, Nat’s fellow gang members Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) ambush the Crimson Hoods gang and rob from them, but they capture one member, Monroe Grimes (Damon Wayans Jr). He taunts the two as they don’t realize whose money they have just stolen.
At night, Nat travels into the town of Redwood to the saloon operated by his former love “Stagecoach” Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz). Working there is another old associate, Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), who is in charge of handling the patrons’ guns. Nat and Mary kiss upon reuniting, but she only does it to “remind him of what it was” before slugging him in the face for leaving her. They reconcile and begin to get intimate until Pickett arrives and tells Nat about the heist. He and Beckwourth bring Nat to meet with Grimes, who tells them that Rufus is set to be released from prison, and he will come after them for stealing his money. Nat appears to be ready to kill Grimes, but he instead lets him run away.
Rufus’s gang, led by “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and sharpshooter Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield), ride their horses to the train where Rufus is being transported. After infiltrating the train, they take hostage the son of the captain of the guards. The gang forces their way into the train car with Rufus in it, and Trudy blackmails the captain with the knowledge that he and his men wiped out an entire village for silver. They free Rufus, and he orders the gang to kill all the men except the captain’s son since he can drive the train.
The saloon is visited by Marshal Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) so that he can arrest Nat. After a brief standoff, Nat complies and goes in cuffs with Reeves.
Rufus and his gang arrive in Redwood where he confronts his former associate Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole), who is now the sheriff of Redwood. He has been squandering the town’s money on personal expenses, like his golden teeth. Rufus beats Wiley in front of the townspeople and knocks out some of his teeth. Rufus orders him to leave town.
Reeves brings Nat to the outskirts of town where it turns out the arrest was set-up so that Nat can personally go after Rufus without involving his gang. However, Mary, Cuffee, Pickett, and Jim all follow and catch up to the two men. Despite Nat telling them to stay out of this, they choose to stick around. Jim, in particular, wants to prove that he is faster than Cherokee Bill as a gunslinger.
Trudy takes back control of her own saloon and admonishes Rufus for having left things in charge to Wiley, but he assures her that her leadership was needed for keeping gangs in line. She and Cherokee address the townsfolk to let them know that Rufus is in charge now. When one man expresses defiance, Rufus guns him down in front of everyone, and then reasserts his orders for the townspeople to pay the gang off.
Nat and his gang find Wiley riding through the woods and capture him. He tells them that Rufus is in Redwood, and he wants control but has no money. At night, Mary offers to go into town and scope out the place before they attempt to infiltrate it. Nat shows objections but Mary is set on going through with it. He attempts to propose to her, but Mary declines.
Mary rides into town and goes to Trudy’s saloon. She speaks to Rufus and attempts to negotiate a proposal to trick him and the gang into doing business with her, but he instead has Trudy knock Mary out and take her as a prisoner. Trudy lets Mary live for a day to see if the gang will come for her. While keeping watch over her, Trudy tells Mary the story about how she used to have a sister also named Mary who suffered from polio. A neighborhood girl named Hope would bully Mary, and one day threw something at her and caused her to fall and injure herself. Trudy’s father beat her for not protecting her sister, but when he went to Hope’s house to beat her as well, Trudy’s father and Hope’s family were all horrified to find that Trudy got to Hope first and slit her throat.
Nat and the rest of the gang ride into Redwood for Mary. Jim attempts a standoff with Cherokee, but he couldn’t care less about proving himself to Jim. When Nat tells Trudy to bring him to Rufus, Nat is brought in but is stripped down and beaten in front of Mary. Rufus comes in and reminds him that he stole his money, so he orders Nat and his gang to pull off a bank robbery to return what is owed to him, plus interest out of petty spite. Rufus orders them to go to Marysville, a predominantly white town.
The gang heads into Marysville, with Cuffee reluctantly donning a dress to go through with the heist. The men guarding the bank draw their guns on the gang, but Nat and his men are quicker. They make their way out with the money without hurting anyone and flee when the sirens go off.
The gang plans their re-entry into Redwood with two carts, one with the money and one that’s a dummy carrying explosives supplied by Wiley. When they get there, Reeves goes off walking with Cherokee while one of Rufus’s men inspects the dummy cart. It explodes and blows the man to pieces. Nat comes in with the real cart, but Cherokee holds him at gunpoint. Jim does the same to Cherokee and prepares for his long-awaited standoff, but just as Jim is counting slowly, Cherokee shoots him in the face. A gunfight ensues between both gangs, with Pickett acting as a sniper for Rufus’s own snipers. Mary is freed and goes after Trudy. The ladies abandon their guns and brawl until Mary knocks Trudy out with the blunt end of a rifle. With most of Rufus’s gang being mowed down, Pickett and Cuffee enter the saloon where Cherokee shoots Pickett with his back turned. Cuffee draws her gun against Cherokee faster and shoots him in retaliation for Pickett. Cherokee is shot in the throat and staggers outside before collapsing dead. Wiley tries to go after Rufus with his dynamite, but Rufus shoots the explosives and blows Wiley up.
Nat goes into Rufus’s building where the man is preparing for Nat to kill him. He then tells him the truth about why he killed his parents – Rufus’s own father was an abusive drunk who later disappeared. After tracking him down, he discovered that his father changed his named to “Love”, and he became Nat’s biological father, meaning he and Rufus are half-brothers. He gave Nat the cross scar so that Rufus would remember his face when he inevitably came for him. Nat tearfully tries to deny this as another one of Rufus’s lies, but Rufus insists it’s the truth. Nat shoots Rufus dead but closes his eyes in respect.
Nat rejoins his surviving teammates before they bury Pickett and Jim, and add another grave with Nat’s name on it to fake his death, which Reeves will back up. Cuffee decides to join Reeves in law enforcement, and she bids farewell to Nat and Mary. The two ride off together, while a still-alive Trudy watches them from a distance.
Nat Love is a legendary outlaw who goes after more deadly criminals. He leads a gang that includes his former lover "Stagecoach" Mary Fields, Bill Pickett, Jim Beckwourth, and Cuffee. They learn that notorious gang leader Rufus Buck, who murdered Nat's parents and marked him with a cross symbol on his forehead, has been broken out of prison by his own gang members, "Treacherous" Trudy Smith and Cherokee Bill.
After teaming up with Marshal Bass Reeves, Nat and his gang plot revenge against Rufus. Mary is taken by Trudy, and when the gang goes to get her, Rufus reminds Nat that they stole money from him when Pickett and Jim robbed another gang that worked under Rufus. He orders them to rob a bank to make up what they stole from him, or Mary will die.
The gang robs the bank and makes their way back into town to face off with Rufus. Mary fights Trudy and knocks her out while Cherokee kills Jim and Pickett, but Cuffee kills Cherokee in retaliation. When Nat goes to confront Rufus, Rufus reveals that he killed Nat's father because that man was Rufus's own biological father who used to abuse him, making him and Nat half-brothers. Nat ultimately kills Rufus.
The gang buries Pickett and Jim and fakes Nat's death. Cuffee joins Reeves in law enforcement while Nat and Mary ride off together. Trudy is still alive and watches them as they leave.