Come for a stellar cast that breaks ass and gets names in a western, and stays for the same reason.
Of Rob Hunter Published November 9, 2021
Westerns had a big run from the early days of American cinema to the 1960s, but somehow fell out of favor in the decades that followed. every year that passes sees a few squeak on the big and small screens, but the real standouts are getting scarcer and scarcer. Luckily for Western fans though, 2021 now has no less than three fantastic and different such gems: Old Henry, The power of the dog, And Jeymes SamuelIt is vibrant, exciting and unforgettable The harder they fall.
A knock on the door interrupts the Love family’s evening meal, and when young Nat’s father opens it, his entire world is shattered. The infamous Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) and his gang of murderers and thieves break into the house, kill Nat’s parents in cold blood and carve a cross on the boy’s forehead. Two decades later and Nat (Jonathan Majors) is something of an outlaw himself – not a good man, but almost exclusively targets other outlaws – with his gang of like-minded gunslingers. Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) is the old west version of a sniper, Jim Beckworth (RJ Cyler) is a young, arrogant and extremely talented referral artist, Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) proves that tough things come in small packages, and Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) is a saloon owner with a personal investment in Nat’s survival.
The path of love is bound to cross Buck’s path once again, and that encounter becomes a certainty when Buck is forcibly freed from a prison transport train. His gang was under the reliable leadership of Trudy Smith (Queen King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), and soon everyone will be meeting in the bustling town of Redwood City. Of course, not everyone will live to tell the story.
The harder they fall is an energetic and fun western ride that features a charismatic cast, compelling characters and visual style inspired by Sergio Leone and is by Sam Raimi. The basic elements of the genre are well represented – revenge, the refusal to submit to the new authorities of the old west, the call for open freedom – but Samuel (who wrote the film with Boaz Yakin) ensures that every familiar beat is paired with both real and imaginary original ones.
Black westerns aren’t exactly new – Sidney Poitier’s Buck and the preacher (1972), Mario Van Peebles To possess (1993) – but invariably they feel to some viewers as a stylized, localized and non-diegetic choice for the genre. In reality, however, these are no less about filmmakers trying to be controversial or flashy and more about viewers unaware of the very real existence of black cowboys in the American West. One in four cowboys was black, but you wouldn’t recognize it from the thousands of westerns made in the last century. Samuel’s film brings this point home from the start by stating on screen that while the story is fictional, these people were very real. Black lawmen, outlaws, gun-wielding women and sharpshooters, and while the film aims well below the biopic, there is an obvious joy in seeing them portrayed on screen as the talented and powerful “cowboys” they were. .
The smallest threads of history are intertwined everywhere The harder they fall tying characters and sequences together, but it’s the dependable old chestnuts of revenge, greed and ambition that drag the characters to Redwood City. As simple as the premise is, the characters and interpretations shine on both sides of the moral divide. Usually it’s just the villains who are flashy, but here the entire main cast offers personality and talent like an atomic bomb. Each shines in different ways leaving them all interesting and memorable, and once the bodies start hitting the ground, their absence is felt on the dramatic front. His closest relative on that front is the underrated Lawrence Kasdan Silverado (1985) which drops pure stellar power directly on the frontier with an equally large effect.
The visuals are equally vibrant and captivating with the town of Redwood City coming to life with splashes of color and sets designed to grab the viewer’s attention. Where most westerns are satisfied with “wood” as the city’s favorite color, The harder they fall chooses to paint the screen instead. It’s never comical, but Samuel (along with production designer Martin Whist and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.) finds shrewd commentary in our protagonists’ visit to a nearby white town. It’s a city at sunset leaving black visitors to lean out against the pale, and the film goes further creating a city painted white inside and out, sprawled atop a white sand desert.
The action is just as visually stunning and electric with bloody shootouts and set pieces captured with energy and fluid creativity. Even if it never fills up Looney Tunes like that of Raimi The fast and the dead (1995), Samuel and Malaimare Jr. refuse to limit their camera or point of view to the traditional. We move as much with action and emotion as we do with expression and intent. The shootings are both fun and deadly, thrilling and sad, and when the credits roll out you’ll be as much spent as you are eager to review. Teasing a follow-up only speeds up the heart to beat faster.
While black cowboys are nothing new, The harder they fall allows the 21st century to intervene in the form of CG blood and anachronistic music. The former is hit and miss (and also accompanied by many practical things), but the latter is successful across the board. Samuel, aka The Bullitts, is a musician himself and composed the music for the film. His lyrics reach our ears from artists like Lauryn Hill, CeeLo Green, Seal, And The Fisk Jubilee Singers, and instead of sounding gimmicky, the spirituals and other songs beautifully capture the heart and soul of the film’s characters and journey.
The harder they fall it is a film that conquers you with all the tools at its disposal, from the cast to the crew, and the final result is a highly satisfying film. Westerns are back, baby!
Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird considering he’s so damn young. He is our lead film critic and associate editor and lists “Broadcast News” as his favorite movie of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.