November 1, 2021 – A guy that used to run a local coffee shop told me once that the Western genre of films, very popular in the 1940s and 1950s was dead and gone. There would be no more Westerns. It is true that Westerns are no longer as popular as they were, but they are still around, and “The Harder They Fall” is a fine example.
While this film has a plot that is very familiar to those who have seen a lot of Westerns, there are some differences. First, there is a surprising plot twist, and second, most of the cast is black. There were black cowboys in the Old West, in fact there were some right here in Wyoming where I live, but they are seldom seen in traditional Western movies.
The film starts out with a flashback scene, showing a man (whose face is not shown) with golden guns killing a family in cold blood, but leaving the young son alive for some reason. The story continues years in the future with the son, Nat Love (Jonathan Majors of “Da 5 Bloods”) now grown up, ambushing a gang of bank robbers and stealing their gold. He discovers that the gold belongs to his sworn enemy, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba of “The Dark Tower”) a man who was supposed to remain in prison for life.
When Rufus' gang springs him from prison, Nat Love goes after him, with the aid of a very tough lawman, Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo of “Da 5 Bloods”). Nat Love's friends also insist on going along on this very dangerous quest as they go up against ruthless Rufus Buck and his deadly gang of outlaws.
Some have called this the Black Panther of Westerns because most of the story takes place in frontier towns populated mostly by black people. Such towns did exist, particularly in the Old West after the Civil War and Reconstruction, but they are seldom shown in movies. One scene takes place in a “white town,” and it seems strangely out of place in this movie.
There is a lot of violence in this film, both in gunfights and cold blooded murder. Love and hatred, bravery and treachery, loyalty and betrayal, are depicted in a land of corruption on a grand scale. At the heart of the movie is vengeance and the hatred of Nat Love of the outlaw Rufus Buck. When they finally meet, Nat Love is in for the head-spinning shock of his life.
There are also two strong women in the movie, Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz of “Deadpool 2”) and “Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King of “If Beale Street Could Talk”) who find themselves on opposite sides of this war, just as others do in the two gangs, because of their loyalties to their charismatic leaders. The battles in the movie are less good against evil, but more like battles between opposing anti-heroes.
The story, written by British director Jeymes Samuel and American writer Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) along with the actors, creates memorable, well-developed characters, and it keeps taking unexpected turns, and folding back upon itself in unexpected ways. The action scenes are well-staged and the confrontations are tense. This is a good, solid Western movie. It rates a B.
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