The predominantly black western isn’t exactly a kind of movie that’s blossomed over the years and if we’re being technical, we can’t even fully count Django Unchained due to director Quentin Tarantino being notoriously of the caucasian persuasion. In fact the only wide release movie I can actually think of on the spot that contained a predominantly black cast and a black director is Mario Van Peebles’ Posse – and that came out in 1993!
Well, hopefully all that is about to change with the wifely publicised Netflix release of The Harder They Fall, an epic, full on, six-shooting tale of retribution and revenge that features a wealth of impressively starry names on both sides of the camera and promises to violently throw a spanner in the works of that, the most American (and white) of movie genres.
Notorious outlaw Nat Love bears the scars, both internal and external, of a childhood meeting with the infamous Rufus Buck, the man who also obliterated both his parents with gunfire during that fateful encounter but years later, he finally catches up with and kills the last man responsible that he can actually draw aim on. Convinced he’s finally free of his blood oath, Love tries to reconnect with saloon singer and old member of the Nat Love Gang, Mary Fields – but when the other former members of the gang, egotistical quickdraw artist Jim Beckworth, rifleman Bill Pickett and the loyal Cuffee, find out there’s a plan in place to extricate Buck out from behind bars, Love once again snaps back into revenge mode.
Thing is, Buck has a formidable gang of his own which features his fiercesome right hand woman Trudy Smith and the tricky, lightning fast Cherokee Bill and he has major plans for the town he once founded before his incarnation.
Finding out that Buck hasn’t been sprung but actually has been granted a pardon for all the heinous shit he’s done, Love teams up with Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves and heads out with his gang to claim some long overdue payback only to find out that his modus operandi of being an outlaw who only robs outlaws is about to catch up to him.
Desperate to secure the funds needed to protect his town (stolen from middle men by The Love Gang), Buck’s troops manage to gain a valuable captive and gain leverage on Nat to do the one thing he vowed not to do – rob an actual bank to secure the rest of the money needed.
With each gang having something the other one desperately needs, the town of Redwood is about to witness a war that will see the dead piled high in the streets and everyone’s sins laid bare in a show down that will take no prisoners.
A flippant, stylish, breath of fresh air, The Harder They Fall is a movie that confidently addresses the balance of black faces only being background or supporting characters in the cinematic universe of gun fights and horses. Directed with zip and wit by Jeymes Samuel (aka. the british singer songwriter also ironically known as The Bullitts), the movie amasses a genuinely impressive cast and drops them into an Old West full of split screens, freeze frames and awesome, contemporary tunes thanks no doubt to co-producer Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and the result may possibly be the best movie Netflix has ever released on their streaming platform.
Playing the lead role of Nat Love is Jonathan Majors so was last seen fucking the multiverse up beyond all repair in Loki and wreaks similar havoc on the old west and it easy to see why the actor is blowing up all over the place. Gifting the character with innate goodness despite his morally dubious choice of lifestyle, he’s joined by a stable of actors who are obviously relishing their chance to play outlaws and arguably the one who’s enjoying things the most is Regina King as “Treacherous” Trudy who has a steely glare locked onto her face at all times and who has an amazing climactic brawl with one time Domino, Zazie Beetz. Everyone tackles their roles with gusto (always a pleasure to see Delroy Lindo) but if I’m being honest, I was hoping that Idris Elba’s brooding villain would be a little more active thanks to his time spent cooly flinging bullets in the Stephen King misfire, The Dark Tower, but he still brings that trademark presence of his to proceedings.
If there’s any dud bullets in The Harder They Fall’s chamber, it’s that its content doesn’t quite justify its hefty running time and a late-in-the-day detour to rob a bank tacks on an extra twenty minutes onto a film that’s already packed to the brim with muscular incident and memorable dialogue.
Still, it’s only a flesh wound and the movie’s awesome final forty minutes is a six shooter blowout that deals out a bloody end to characters on both sides of the line while clueing in others to devastating revelations in unexpected ways and it proves to be a fitting end to a western that blurs conventions with style and refreshingly chooses to avoid any use of the n-word.
The film is also loaded with smart visual cues which include everything from a blink and you’ll miss it tribute to Chadwick Boseman to a white owned back that’s actually painted white inside and out and its this attention to detail that make Samuel’s directing career definately one to watch.
Essentially doing for the modern western what Black Panther did for the superhero movie, all involved have served up something fresh, fun and transgressive.
To quote sharp shooter Jim Beckworth, “Much obliged, motherfuckers.”