The Reel: The harder they fall

A fantastical retelling of a time when black cowboys did actually exist.

What you need to know:

  • Movie: The harder they fall
  • Starring: Idris Elba, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beetz, Edi Gathegi, 
  • Run time: 2h 19m

Wow, this movie! There were so many important narratives that preceded it that need to explore, but first, let’s start with the fact that it took a  decade to write the script and even get this movie made in the first place.

During this time, the director, Jeymes Samuel, enlisted the help of Shawn Carter Knowles, better known as Jay Z for the project. This movie is what finally got Jay Z on Instagram for literally a day, to promote the movie, in perhaps the best way to use star power  I’ve seen this year.

Then, there is the historical implication of stories not being told. One in every four cowboys was black. In fact, cowboys were never white, because those guys, the guys on the farm, were cow hands.

Cowboys were considered a lowly station (if you’ve watched any movies set in slavery times, you know that a white man calling a black man ‘boy’ was aimed at being derogatory). But black cowboys existed.

Many of the so-called legendary fables of white cowboys or ‘guns of the West’ were based on amazing black cowboys, including characters like Walker Texas Ranger. Before I watched this movie, I didn’t know that.

Now, about the movie, before I ramble too long. The cast is sterling. I enjoy watching Edi Gathegi playing a role that I haven’t seen him do – we saw him in X-Men, getting killed almost immediately, and in Blacklist, but in this movie, as a gun-toting smartass who wants a ranch – he’s refreshing and different.

There is no better man to play the villain than Idris Elba (think Luther, The Wire) and even his lack of an excessive number of lines makes him even more menacing. Then he quotes Napoleon? I mean! I love a story where the villain is just trying to make a better life. It isn’t even about the good and the bad. It’s about his life from here on out and doing what he has to do (killing who he has to kill) to get there.

Speaking of killing, that’s how the flick starts. Rufus Buck (Elba) kills the parents of Nat Love (Majors), and Love spends his whole life trying to track Buck down for revenge. Just when he thinks his quest is done, Buck is released from prison. And that’s in the first 15 minutes of this two-hour-long story.

Buck’s gang members include Trudy Smith, played by Regina King, who is simply breath-taking in her delivery of malevolence, and LaKeith Stanfield. To be entirely honest, as a non-American, I thought their accents kept slipping – but that’s one of my only critiques of the movie, made from my biased view of how Southern Americans are supposed to sound.

And Stanfield, as well, was smoother on screen than I’ve ever seen him be. (the other critique is, spoiler alert, I’m not entirely sure why we needed the Stagecoach Mary bit in the movie. I felt like she messed it up for everyone. Or was it just to prompt the final battle? I thought that plan of hers was so holey.)

A special mention goes to the slick Delroy Lindo. He plays the sheriff who wants everyone brought to book. Honestly, I feel like the whole cast needs special mentions. They were all really, really good (who knew Deon Cole could NOT be a joke?).

I can’t end this review without talking about the flawless soundtrack. I wonder if it is because the director is a songwriter and musician as well (brother to Seal, don’t you know, I bet he’s always introduced like that)?

But whatever the reason, anyone that puts my favourite femcee Lauryn Hill and the inimitable Fela Kuti (the director is also half Nigerian) on one film is a winner in my book. All the music felt perfect.


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