Both the black and white hats are Black in The Harder They Fall, a new spin on the Western genre by director Jeymes Samuel (aka The Bullitts), which centers the Black cowboys, mixing fiction with the revival of real cowboy legends. Jay-Z is a producer which means that the soundtrack rocks, featuring heavy reggae influence and tracks from heavies including Jadakiss, Kid Cudi, Seal, CeeLo Green, Fatoumata Diawara and Ms. Lauryn Hill, and many others.
Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) plays the affable Nat Love, torn between romance and revenge, inexorably drawn towards his nemesis Rufus Buck—a deliciously evil Idris Elba. From the very first scene, blood squirts and sprays freely and corny jokes pepper the script. Tonally, this lands closer to a slapstick-infused Tarantino-inspired caper than the grizzled, deadly serious westerns of yesteryear. Visually, the color palette is bright and saturated, the set starkly illuminated and shadowless, visually popping like a candy-coated Wes Anderson dystopia.
The casting attempts to cram all of Black Hollywood into one film, including LaKeith Stanfield, Damon Wayans Jr., and the indomitable Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves, whose character was recently popularized in Watchmen. However, colorism and sizeism unfortunately mar this noble effort with the inexplicable casting of Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Deadpool) as Stagecoach Mary, who was a larger and darker-skinned woman. Dazzling the screen once again, Regina King plays Mary’s nemesis Trudy Smith. The script passes the Bechdel test, gifting its women generous screen time and a few badass scenes together. Stealing the show is Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee, hilariously mean-mugging the whole film.
Hardcore western fans may lament the lack of dirt and grime, as well as a camera that slowly lingers in reverence over the open plains. The story isn’t particularly inspired, and the fight scenes could use a bit more sophistication. This is a flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously—nor should you. The Harder They Fall is about creating space for fresh new voices and audiences in a well-worn genre, in a fun, stylized way. Leave your saddlebags at the door and mount up for one hell of a ride! Yah! R, 130 min.