Jeymes Samuel (“They Die by Dawn”) has shaken up the western genre with “The Harder They Fall” giving it a kind of rhythm that makes sense since Samuel is a musician-turned-director.
Perhaps Samuel’s a conductor as well because he assembled a perfect cast, all of them (each, and everyone) breathing life into some of the most interesting and notorious outlaws ever to ride the West. And since this is a revenge story, having that classic good versus evil is a fun ride.
I don’t believe that Hollywood will ever reach equality as it relates to race. I strongly believe that they step into diversity only because it impacts their profit margin. And the western genre has always been populated by characters that are white, straight, and physically and mentally groomed to tackle the wildness of nature.
And where are women in these past western films? Much like real life, they are sidelined, relegated to the lowest rank possible. Now search for women of color in these genres and we understand the impact of the lack of diversity. This is how entire generations were exposed to the inaccurate representations of our past.
Fast-forward to 2020/2021 and we are introduced to the stylish outlaw-revenge story under Samuel’s sturdy hand. It’s exciting to inhale the way he opens the film—he makes it clear that “These. People. Existed.”—as expressed in white letters punched through a black screen. Bam, do you get it?
Now, this isn’t a fantasy Western. These characters are based on the lives of people that lived, real-life African American, Afro-Indigenous cowboys, including Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beets), and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield).
The story takes place after the Civil War and the end of slavery. The gang arrives at an all-white town and the sight of these African American makes the townsfolk terrified.
After robbing the bank, Nat and his posse go home to Redwood City, a frontier town filled with folks of color, and most are wanted women and men. But amongst this rough group, the most feared is the bandit Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), who is also based upon a real person. This a colorful group with three of the film’s most interesting characters wearing dresses (most of the time): “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King), who rides with Rufus and Mary, and her gender-defying right-hand “man” Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler).
An opening scene begins with a murder. Rufus kills a family in their cabin and carves a cross into the forehead of young Nat, who survives and spends the better part of his life tracking down and taking revenge on the men who murdered his family until only one remains—Rufus Buck, who is in prison. But in one of the most interesting scenes, as Rufus is being moved via a train, his loyal posse stops it, break him out of a heavy iron vault and then kill all the white soldiers hired to transport him, but not without cause.
Now, remember no matter how evil Rufus Buck is painted, another character sums it like this: “I’ve seen the Devil, and Rufus Buck ain’t him. The Devil’s white.”
Kudos to Samuel for adding the facts about the African American mixing with Indigenous culture, featuring Cherokee Bill (Keith Stanfield) who rocks as the part-Indian, part-African American.
Samuel is skilled at setting the tone and has definitely put his stamp on the film, and well done on introducing us to these real people. Sure, they aren’t as famous as Wyatt Earp but white, straight men have been telling history so what do you expect?
The music runs through the director, with Samuel using songs like bullets to make his point. When he mixes in the reggae classic,“Here I Come,” remixed with the sound of Mother Africa’s drum beats, the scene feels like it’s stepped into one of those legendary moments.“The Harder They Fall” is a Netflix release and presentation. Starring Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, RJ Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole, Regina King, Idris Elba.