Do you love westerns? Do you also love playful modernism inserted into artistic direction and styling of period pieces? Do you enjoy undertold American legacies? If so; the latest western produced by Netflix, The Harder They Fall, may just be for you.
With a star studded cast and already plenty of awards buzz, THe Harder They Fall is aptly named. The Consersvative Critic will ask; is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And finally, is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: The Harder the Fall
Overall rating: Great
The Harder They Fall is a traditional western with a modern flair that follows two rival cowboy gangs as they dole out revenge and try to make their way in the great American west. Featuring an almost exclusively black cast, the movie tells the largely completely untold true story of American western expansion which is that the migration of black people from the south to the west after the Civil War was responsible for about 50% of the cowboy culture which has become American lore including the most famous cowboy of them all, the Lone Ranger (who is featured in the film).
The film features everything the western formula requires to create the magic of the genre:
- It has a deeply personal and bitter rivalry between two alpha men
- It has gritty women who ride as tough as the boys
- An independent minded and beautiful saloon girl/gang member for a cowboy love interest
- Quick draw duels
- Native American spiritualism
- Crooked government agents who need taught a lesson
- Bank and train robbery
- A crescendo in a town-wide shootout
- Few survivors
- A ride into the sunset at the end
But it also has the unique perspective of black cowboys and the infusion of both modern and historic black culture into the western landscape. The costuming, music and styling weave modern and historic aesthetics which makes the film more fun while keeping the integrity of the western style.
Overall, along with a fairly conservative moral theme as are all themes which are to do with manifest destiny and rugged individualism, The Harder They Fall is an extremely fun and well done movie which is already receiving well deserved awards buzz.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Cowboy romp
I have to disclose: I love the western formula. Anytime a modern filmmaker adopts the western style into a new movie I get very excited and it’s hard to let me down. The movie kicks off with violence, moves to a train posse and flows right into a saloon girl musical number. There is nothing not fun about the first half of the film.
The only drawback which makes the film slightly less fun is that, much in the style of a western, there are a few too many characters and the movie takes a couple of asides to ensure those characters get their time in the high noon sun. When it comes to the famous U.S. Marshall, Bass Reeves AKA the Lone Ranger played by Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X, Da 5 Bloods), the storyline is distracting and really should have been cut. Its easy to see why the character was added, but it creates a bit of a drag.
Overall the movie is fun, tongue and cheek, playful and extremely masculine without crossing into sexist. It is a wonderful cowboy romp.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Unique and well done
Because its formulaic, a western is never truly breaking ground. In order to make a western, the steps must be followed. Its much like baking a cake. Each piece of a western in exact proportions is critical to the overall outcome. The Harder They Fall gets the recipe right but in doing so breaks very little storytelling ground.
However, by taking the classic western and setting it to the perspective of black Americans who settled the west as much as white Americans, the filmmakers manage to do something new which always wins major points with the Conservative Critic. Unsurprisingly, the black American perspective in the west is not very dissimilar to the white American perspective. The film shoehorned in some racial issues which will be addressed below, but primarily the story feels much the same as one that John Wayne could have starred in. The film even features a non-native actor playing a native character (done in tongue and cheek) which is an unfortunate staple of old western films.
Visually the film is gorgeous. The cast is draped in jewel tones and lit like a magazine shoot. The whole thing looks like a very elaborate fall issue of Vogue. The filmography is also interesting. Often the camera zooms or rattles or has some kind of unusual perspective shift when chaos broke out in the story but it isn’t nauseating which it often can be.
The cast was phenomenal. LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Judas and the Black Messiah) proves his undeniable star power by almost stealing the whole show in his supporting role as the intellectual, soft spoken and deadly, Cherokee Bill. The two leading men, Idris Elba (Luther, Thor) as Rufus Buck and Jonathon Majors (Lovecraft Country, We Rise) as Nat Love smolder with power and unflinching motivation. The two black hats bring the material to life and absolutely sell themselves as good old fashioned cowboys. Zazie Beats (Atlanta, Invincible) is stunning as Mary Fields, the saloon owner and gang rider love interest of Nat Love. If she is in the frame, eyes are on her. She knows how to play with her charisma. There were no weak spots in the performances.
Director Jeymes Samuel who is better known for his soundtrack and music work on films like The Great Gatsby, is not making his debut but this will be his first big hit and viewers will be begging for more.
Despite their best efforts, the movie leans to the right. Liberal America both now and at the time did not endorse the idea of Americans charting their own paths, starting their own towns and breaking free of societal norms. They definitely didn’t and do not endorse the idea of rebelling against corrupt institutions and taking justice into our own hands using firearms.
Westerns celebrate the origins of modern American conservatism which came from thinkers like Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain and the brave souls who broke free and moved west after the Civil War. The movie is about people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and create a life for themselves and don’t take crap from the tax man and the feds when they prove themselves corrupted.
However, the film really wants to be liberal and threw in some dumb liberal things which are ironically historically inaccurate. At one scene, a black woman and member of one of the gangs is tasked with robbing a bank. As is custom in a western, the bank has to be villainized in order to justify this action. The director chose to villainize the bank by making it “whites only” and making the teller a racist. The film doesn’t specify exactly where it takes place but the American west did not have many places where there would have been segregated anything let alone banking. Western towns were extremely few and far between and all resources were shared. One of the most beautiful traditions of cowboys in the west is that they were interracial far before the rest of the country caught up.
Mark Twain moved to Nevada during western expansion because of its freedom and total integration of all races. The freedom and the equality of the west is literally why black Americans left and went that direction. It was the first great American level playing field. Either you were tough enough and you lived or you died. Color was not a major factor – though – undeniably there were towns and settlements which broke into black and white and Mexican and native. But there wasn’t a thing in the west where people had the luxury not to work together.
The film could take place in west Texas which would make this a bit more understandable but even still. Necessity is necessity in rugged landscapes.
So its not to say it couldn’t have happened, it’s just that it seems a bit shoehorned for the purpose of creating divisiveness which is a very liberal thing to do.
The Harder they Fall is fun, unique and conservative leaning. It’s a western from top to bottom and anyone who loves the genre plus those just looking for a good movie for the weekend will enjoy it.