The Harder They Fall
The Western film genre has a well-deserved reputation for being incredibly racist. The golden age of these movies took place in the 1950s, a time before inter-racial marriage was legal in the United States, when Jim Crow laws were still enforced in the American south, before the American Indian Movement was established, before Malcolm X had built the Nation of Islam into a force to be reckoned with, and before Dr. Martin Luther King had organized his march on Washington. It was a particularly bad time to be black or brown in the U.S. of A.
Westerns in this era were dominated by unapologetically right-wing movie actors like John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart. Indigenous characters were often played by white actors, and they were often disrespectfully portrayed as barbaric savages.
Rarely were black characters featured, even in supporting roles, which is unfortunate, because there were a number of black cowboys who played prominent roles in the history of the old West and some, like Bass Reeves, became the real life inspiration for fictional characters such as The Lone Ranger.
In the last 20 to 30 years, film makers have tried to remedy this oversight, by doing things like casting Danny Glover as one of the heroes in Silverado and incorporating black actors into the John Cusack led film Jack Bull. But these attempts have been half-hearted at best. No one has really tried to bring significant black characters from the Wild West to the Big Screen, until now.
The Harder They Fall is a western with an all-black cast. It is extremely colourful, gloriously violent, incredibly funny and undeniably exciting.
The film tells the story of Nat Love, a bandit with a heart of gold, who hunts other outlaws during his search for the criminals who brutally murdered his family when he was a small boy. The movie is interesting in that it features black outlaws and black lawmen who actually existed, such as Bass Reeves and Stagecoach Mary, but places them in events that are entirely fictional.
The Harder They Fall features wonderful performances from Delroy Lindo, who plays Bass Reeves, and Jonathan Majors, who plays Nat Love. Also giving great performances are Regina King (Trudy Smith), Zazie Beats (Stagecoach Mary), Lakieth Stanfield (Cherokee Bill), Damon Wayans Jr. (Munro Grimes),and Edi Gathegi (Bill Pickett). The very talented and very menacing Idris Elba plays Rufus Buck, the villain of the piece. Elba is best known for roles including Stringer Bell in the HBO series The Wire, DCI John Luther in the BBC One series Luther, and Nelson Mandela in the biographical film Mandela:Long Walk to Freedom (2013).
The film is directed and co-written by Jeymes Samuel. Samuel has directed one other movie, They Die by Dawn, another film about African American outlaws, but he is actually better known as a singer-songwriter and as such has worked alongside people like Jay Z and Baz Luhrman. It has to be said that, probably as a result of Samuel’s previous work, the soundtrack of this film is absolutely great.
The Harder They Fall is wonderful and not to be missed.
Two thumbs way, way up.