Who is ready for a fresh and different take on one of Hollywood’s oldest genres? The western has been around since the dawn of film. This genre was the biggest thing in film for quite a few decades. With the likes of John Wayne, these epically scoped and adventurous films captured the imagination and rebellious spirit of the audience. But in modern times, the western is few and far between. You would be completely wrong to say the genre is dead when we still get great films every so often. Guess what? The Harder They Fall continues that wonderful trend.
But when you have a genre so old and has done so much, what can you do to shake things up? Taking a different perspective is a great place to start. What most people don’t know is that the west was full of black cowboys. Many former slaves went out west to find a place to start a new life. Most old school Hollywood westerns painted a particularly different vision of the west. What The Harder They Fall does is give a (partially) realistic take…meaning it focuses on a population of people who have been mostly left out of the genre in the past. But this film is not realistic as it basks in the glory of the spaghetti western legacy. Hyper violent and over-the-top, this western is a crazy fun time.
How else does this film take a fresh take on the western genre? Director Jeymes Samuel delivers plenty of personality that matches the modern sensibilities of its black culture. The impactful needle drops drive home the bold personality this film has. Samuel embraces this perspective on every level which makes it feel so authentic. The filmmaking is also quite impressive. One shot says it all. The camera zooms in (courtesy of a crane) from the top of a building and clear across town and ends on a triumphant and heroic closeup of our protagonist. With so much flair, Samuel does not disappoint with making this a unique experience.
Sure, the film has plenty of flash and style, but does it also deliver some depth and substance? The film does try to balance a lot. There are plenty of characters to balance and connect too. But each and everyone feels like a person with a discernable personality. The larger runtime gives the film the chance to do that but even so, there are some moments where the film loses its momentum, and it feels like it comes to a screeching halt. Quieter moments are important in films, but you do still need to engage during them too. The narrative is straightforward even with so many people filling it out. Revenge. That is the core of the film but what Samuel does is play with some of those revenge movie cliches and deliver a few surprises in the third act that adds some emotional weight to its climax. A branded young man (Jonathan Majors) leads his gang against another which is led by the man who killed his parents (Idris Elba).
With such a large cast of characters, what does this impressive cast bring to the film? Majors continues to prove he is a talented and charismatic lead that brings a unique energy to the film. Zazie Beetz brings the same kind of energy to the film as his counterpart and fellow gang member. The rest of the central Nat Love Gang includes some fine turns from RJ Cyler, Edi Gathegi, and Danielle Deadwyler. A few veteran actors join the gang and their missions while providing a steady presence (Delroy Lindo and Deon Cole). On the antagonist side of things, we have three of the most talented actors around nailing their performances. LaKeith Stanfield is just such a great addition to any film, and he delivers a complex and intriguing presence. Regina King just kills it in this film providing an intimidating and challenging force for our protagonists. Finally, the big one. Idris…Elba. Do I even have to say he is great? He is actually a bit understated in this film (but Samuel really knows how to soak up his presence). Elba and Majors deliver one heck of an emotional climax together and that might be the most exciting element of the film.
Did this sell you enough yet? Big…bold…beautiful…and boisterous. This is a film worth experiencing. The western still has it when the right creator takes the reins and Samuel sure delivers here. Show this vision some love and make sure to support The Harder They Fall. We would all benefit from more films like this.