Netflix: this western with Idris Elba that dusted off the genre

Available today on Netflix, The Harder They Fall is a western like we rarely see with its star cast and 99% black actresses and actors.

What is it about ?

Determined to take revenge, the outlaw Nat Love gets on his horse with his gang to settle his score with his enemy Rufus Buck, a cruel gang leader escaped from prison.

The Harder They Fall, a movie written by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, directed by Jeymes Samuel with Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo… On Netflix

Who is it with?

For his first feature film, Jeymes Samuel – better known by his musical artist name The Bullitts – saw it big. To tell this 100% fictional story, he summoned characters who actually existed and created a real mythology around them. (Although this mythology has not been printed in the history books.)

Jonathan Majors thus plays Nat Love, a gangster driven by a thirst for revenge after having witnessed the murder of his parents as a child. The guilty ? It is Rufus Buck, played by Idris Elba who, once again, takes pleasure in playing the bad guys.

Netflix: this western with idris elba that dusted off the genre
David Lee / Netflix

Rufus Buck is surrounded by fine triggers including Cherokee Bill played by Lakeith Stanfield, and his right arm is none other than Treacherous Trudy Smith, played by a Regina King who gives all its value to this nickname “Treacherous” which means “traitor”.

Alongside Jonathan Majors, we find some well-known faces of the small and big screen including Zazie Beetz who plays Mary Fields, Delroy Lindo who plays Bass Reeves (the first black sheriff west of Mississippi) or Edi Gathegi in the role of Bill Pickett.

Well worth a look ?

It was not until 2021 to see an ambitious production, led by an entirely black cast, enter the field of the sacrosanct western. This genre, which marked the heyday of Hollywood with the films of John Ford and other Howard Hawks, has for a long time also been a form of propaganda. The one where we tell a biased story or omit a good part of its protagonists.

Netflix: this western with idris elba that dusted off the genre
David Lee / Netflix

With The Harder They Fall, Jeymes Samuel does not sign a historical film, since its story is totally fictitious. But he rehabilitates the place of African-American cowboys in the history of westerns by centering the story on them. By taking them out of their eternal supporting roles.

Its goal is to create an instant classic with this story of revenge between notorious bandits. He wants to immortalize the names of Nat Love, Rufus Buck, Mary Fields and bring them to life in the collective unconscious like Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill or Calamity Jane.

And the result is rather stunning. Because Jeymes Samuel signs a western which at the same time reinvents the genre. Deeply pop with its shimmering colors, sometimes funny, but also constructed like a Greek tragedy, the film gives a false impression of lightness and over time, imprints the retina without even realizing it.

Netflix: this western with idris elba that dusted off the genre
David Lee / Netflix

The one who has already established himself as an esthete of the image, with his approach sometimes as a plastic artist in the music videos he has produced, has composed real paintings that pass in the popular imagery of comics – we think to the scene where Rufus Buck is exfiltrated from his prison car – to shots sometimes reminiscent of American Impressionism.

There is clearly Tarantino in this film, in this very assumed pop aspect and this taste of revenge. However, The Harder is nothing like Django Unchained and that’s good. The film digs another furrow. It shows a sort of alternate reality. At least that is how we perceive it in the light of the part of History that has been put under the carpet. He actually shows us – through the magic of fiction – a hidden truth.

The Harder They Fall is a real cinema film, much more than a political film. Politics precisely, he does not. The argument just comes down to the casting and a very funny heist scene in a (literally) white town where the locals look at these bandits with an outraged and scared look. Jeymes Samuel reinvents a (a little) dusty genre to make it a flashy and dynamic object. This is the strength of this film.

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