The Western has been making something of a comeback over the years and The Harder They Fall shows that the genre is far from dead.
The gist of the film is that an outlaw, Nat Love aka “Deadwood Dick” (Jonathan Majors), learns that legendary outlaw Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison. As such, Nat gets his old gang together to get his revenge against his enemy. Nat’s gang includes Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (R.J. Cyler). Rufus has a crew of his own that includes “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield). Expect plenty of gunfire as this Jeymes Samuel film takes audiences back in time to the American West.
We see Nat Love’s life change at the very beginning of the film. Following this, every decision he makes can be traced back to that very moment. And yet, how many of us can say we’ve heard about Nat Love or Rufus Black? Not me. You hear of people like Billy the Kid because that’s what history wants to teach you. The Harder They Fall is of the moment because there’s so much Black history that many people do not know about. For instance, the Lone Ranger is based on U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo). Reeves might be a significant figure from his era but how many people really know this? A film like this–like many other films and TV series during the past year–is only skimming the surface. Granted, they play with time by bringing people in from different periods.
This is the rare Western in which the main cast members are Black. It’s a far cry from the days of classic Hollywood. It is not your John Wayne Western! What Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin manage to do with their script is right a wrong. There is a lot of representation lacking in Hollywood over the years. Or in some instances, they might not be lacking representation in theory but people are not getting the proper treatment. Take Malcolm and Marie from early 2021. The reason Sam Levinson chose to shoot the film in Black and White was because technicolor was taking over by the time Black actors started getting cast in leading roles. Hollywood does not always reflect reality on screen. The truth of the matter is that there were Black people living in the Old West after the Emancipation Proclamation.
This cast is every bit as capable of standing on screen in a Western next to the likes of John Wayne. Given what we know about Wayne’s views, maybe it’s a good thing that we have a film like The Harder They Fall. I mean, this film, albeit fiction, draws upon real people. When it comes to casting, The Harder They Fall features one of the best ensembles of the year. Idris Elba manages to deliver a solid performance. Will it be enough to earn an Oscar nomination in a crowded race? Time will certainly tell. And then you have Jonathan Majors, who is rising to stardom after his Sundance breakthrough. Westerns might not be the genre that they used to be but a Western like this film should be able to find an audience.
DIRECTOR: Jeymes Samuel
SCREENWRITERS: Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin
CAST: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole, with Regina King and Idris Elba