"They just don't make 'em like they used to"...is a phrase that can be retired after watching the wildly entertaining new Western, "The Harder They Fall."
Well technically, they've NEVER made movies quite like this, as people of color have all but been left out of Westerns, or relegated to stereotypical roles, during the genre's boom in the early days of Hollywood. Director Jeymes Samuel makes up for lost time by packing his movie with an all-star cast, plenty of gun-fighting, and a stylish-comedic vibe that makes "The Harder They Fall" one of the more pure entertaining films of the year (it has previously been in theaters but releases on Netflix's streaming platform today, 11/3.)
You would never know that one out of every four cowboys in the Old West were African-American. That's because the genre has been white-washed for decades. Thank goodness this film exists.
It's directed with confidence and a bit of an attitude, which is a good thing. But it also feels grounded in what we've come to expect from the very best Westerns. Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) is spared as a young boy by a villainous outlaw, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), but his parents are not. When Buck's gang - including Trudy Smith (Regina King) and the best-shot-in-the-West Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) breaks him out of prison, Nat Love decides to get his old gang back together for a little bit of revenge. He meets Mary Fields (Zazie Beetz) and local law man Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) as they attempt to track down the Rufus Buck Gang.
Best of all, all of those represented in the film were actual people, albeit the events in the movie are fictitious. Director Samuel plays fast and loose with historical accuracy, but has a lot to say about how African-Americans have been sidelined in this portion of our history. At one point, the characters arrive in a town full of white people, with white buildings and even white sand. It's a stark contrast, but in other words, he gives as much nuance to his white characters that African-Americans have been given for nearly a century on the screen.
Don't miss "The Harder They Fall," and here's hoping they make more...the rich cast of characters and juicy performances would be welcomed back in a heartbeat, and Samuel even leaves that door open with a nice little cliffhanger at the end. There is a joy that's present in every frame of this film, and it ends up transcending it's genre altogether: Not only is this a very good Western, but it's just a damn fine film in general.
Genre: Western, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Edi Gathegi, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield, Deon Cole, RJ Cyler.
Written and Directed by Jeymes Samuel ("They Die by Dawn").
"The Harder They Fall" had a limited theatrical release and hits Netflix streaming on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021.
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