The Good, The Bad, And The Campy of The Harder They Fall

The eternal spaghetti western genre lives on in the recent film The Harder They Fall. Starring Idris Elba, as Rufus Buck, a ruthless outlaw with the same smug grin and half-lite eyes you may have seen in The Suicide Squad, but this time, set in 19th century outlaw Texas. Despite everyone sharing their 2nd cousins’ login information, Netflix still shows to have exorbitantly large budgets for the blockbuster movies they produce, and this movie is no different. The western has evolved over time from the Sergio Leone films of the 1960’s. Westerns have been adapted to a modern audience with the same grit and dirt and clear cut lines of good and evil that the genre has fostered for so long.

The Good

The Cast

A large portion of the $90 million budget was no doubt spent on the star-studded cast including Regina King as Buck’s right-hand Trudy Smith, LaKeith Stanfield as the witty quickdraw Cherokee Bill, and Jonathan Majors as the protagonist Nat Love. Regina King is no stranger to action– her performance in the HBO series Watchmen earned her an Emmy for her commanding portrayal of vigilante Angela Abar. Much of the characters in the film, like Cherokee Bill and Rufus Buck are based on real outlaws. The stories of these men had been white-washed in previous movies and stories, changing the race of the outlaws, but historians maintain that both men were of black and native descent. Cherokee Bill was a stagecoach robber in the late 1800’s who committed his first murder before reaching adulthood. Bill led a violent gang of robbers, but was captured in 1895. The rich stories of these men have allowed writer and director Jeymes Samuel to complete this dream project as his feature length debut. The folklore surrounding the characters within this film had to be matched with a comparable caliber of acting, which the production team chose wisely.

The Cinematography

Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, known for movies like The Master, or more recently, Jojo Rabbit, takes hold of the setting in dramatic fashion with each new scene. The west was made true– from the stretched open landscape of the opening shot, to the movie title shoving its way onto the screen after ten minutes of plot has developed. The Harder They Fall drips with campy old west themes and tropes. From wide panning shots of family farms to sky-high crane shots swooping down to the heels of a racing caravan of bandit-backed horses, Malaimare’s technical execution is exceptional. The cinematography of The Harder They Fall adopts the feel and warmth of 70mm films with the great continuity of modern staging, lighting, and camera work, which can often be missed in newly shot digital westerns.

The Music

The opening song, “Guns Go Bang” featuring Jay-Z and Kid Cudi holds true to the sound of the artists, but nods to the fanciful and gritty nature of Quinten Tarantino films like Django. Jay-Z, executive producer of the film, brought in some music stars to match that of the cast, including Seal, Jadakiss, Cee-lo Green, and Conway the Machine, among others. The inclusion of Seal is connection worth mentioning. Director Jeymes Samuel, who started off in the music business under the name Bullitts, is the brother of the Grammy award winning recording artist Seal. The infusion of Jamaican music throughout the soundtrack, remixed by Jeymes Samuel, was a unique tribute to the blaring horns used in much of the old and new western tales. Each song, original and remixed, accompany the movement and action in each scene of the film in cohesive way that does not force emotion into a scene without it, but allows it to be highlighted.

The Bad

The Dialogue

A large identifier of the western genre is short terse dialogue delivered by characters picking at their teeth and spitting on the ground. However, this mold for dialogue does not mean the words need to be rinsed and repeated from the scripts of their predecessors, but that is present in The Harder They Fall. Upon entering Stagecoach Mary’s Saloon owned by Mary Fields, played by Zazie Beetz, Cuffee the doorman says to Love, “Folks say you once cut down three men with one bullet”– a line strangely reminiscent of Rango, the animated western from 2011. In the animated film, Rango, voiced by Johnny Depp, tells the tale of killing seven brothers with one bullet. It’s normal for stories to overlap in the folklore of the west, but there are definitely moments where the dialogue becomes contrived.

The Musical Number

The first meeting place where we get better acquainted with the more valiant half of the characters is at Stagecoach Mary’s. Mary begins on stage singing a call and response song with the saloon patrons as Love walks in smoking a hand-rolled cigar. The song seems to be telling a story, setting the mood, but it does neither. “Dead On Arrival”, though catchy, was just another scene that stretched the movie over the two hour mark.

The Campy

When a mustache-donning, dirty bandit is shot with a silver revolver and does not fly backwards ten feet, I am disappointed. There is something comforting in being pulled into a story, then suddenly awoken by a comical level of violence. The Harder They Fall takes the somewhat stereotypical, but necessary steps to make the film fall perfectly into the genre. There are stare-downs in the center of a dusty town, only to be broken up with lines like, “I’m gon’ get me a drink.” This is the charm of westerns when done well– you know entirely what you are getting into, and your brain is free to cruise on autopilot while your eyes and ears feast. Good movies can allow us to escape without dredging up too much of our current reality, and westerns do this especially well. This film will no win any Oscars, but if you enjoy the genre, it is a fresh new take on the old west cops and robbers’ films of the past with characters based on real men who really were not to be trifled with.


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