Despite a missing plot, Lucy Nichols finds The Harder They Fall an entertaining and visually impressive new take on the Western genre
As a genre, the Western has been reimagined countless times, to a variety of ends. We have seen Johnny Depp playing a lizard cowboy in Rango, Jamie Foxx a liberated slave in Django Unchained, and now Idris Elba and Jonathan Majors playing completely brutal outlaws Rufus Buck and Nat Love.
The Harder They Fall is a visually stunning attempt by Jeymes Samuel to tell the forgotten story of African Americans in the Wild West, and the star-studded cast does well to bring this to life.
While this film is no masterpiece, it is as entertaining as you may expect a film including Idris Elba playing a vicious outlaw to be. The use of colours in The Harder They Fall is reminiscent of Almodóvar, and the characters feel like they’ve been pulled out of a (slightly dampened) Tarantino blockbuster.
The soundtrack is phenomenal and although the costume department appear to only have taken inspiration from Back to the Future III, the characters still look pretty damn cool. Though it’s probably difficult not to look cool if you’re LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), who depicts the real-life outlaw Cherokee Bill, the sidekick to Idris Elba’s character Rufus Buck.
The film’s major downfall is its plot, or lack thereof. There are attempts to paint this as a story of revenge. We see Spike Lee protégée Jonathan Majors (Da 5 Bloods) go after the man who murdered his parents in front of him. He is of course accompanied by an unlikely gang of misfits, and a crooked Deputy of the Law (Delroy Lindo, also in Da 5 Bloods).
Despite being a story about black outlaws in the still deeply racist Reconstruction-era USA, this is not a story of black suffering (a story that has been told thousands of times before). It is perhaps somewhat radical to set a film in this era without it being focused on racism and the suffering felt by African Americans at the time.
In fact, Jeymes Samuel refuses to even entertain the idea that this film might focus on black suffering: very early on in the film, Regina Kings’ character Trudy Smith shoots a white man before he can even finish the utterance of a racist slur at her. An early indication that this particular film will not focus on anti-black racism but will instead be a film where black people are allowed the dignity of telling a story where they are not the victim. The anti-Tarantino if you will.
Later, the outlaws venture into a town inhabited only by white people, a town that is literally devoid of colour, as all its buildings are painted ghostly white – quite the opposite of Redwood (Redwood), the town where the entire population is black, and where most of the drama is set.
This is perhaps a reflection of the blandness of the law-abiding white citizens, not pushed into crime by poverty and inequality. But I like to view it as a reflection of how little the racism of Southern whites is allowed into the overall plot of the movie. If you watch The Harder They Fall, you’ll see what I mean. Nat Love and his outlaws only venture into this White Town full of white people as a means to an end, and the lack of drama in this setting is a conscientious effort by Jeymes Samuel to highlight the absence of black suffering in this film. It’s very clever.
While The Harder They Fall is almost astonishingly weak in terms of its plot, all the other aspects of this film range from decent to magnificent in terms of quality. Above all else, it is entertaining, and for this alone it’s probably worth watching.
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