The Harder They Fall is definitely a Western for the modern age, and in keeping with the status of our modern age, it’s a lot.
My knowledge of Westerns is limited. I liked Maverick and Blazing Saddles, but those are more comedy than Western. Back to the Future III was decent–and possibly referenced in this movie. There were a couple of Western-themed episodes of Star Trek, a franchise which itself has been called a space Western. But I don’t think those count as true Westerns. The only one I saw before this that really counts as a true Western was the John Wayne movie True Grit, which I watched for a class and remember very little of. But I think the idea of the Western is so ingrained into modern U.S. culture, it’s hard not to be familiar with the basics, and this movie has what you’d expect from a good, old-fashioned Western. Cowboys, desperados, pretty saloon girls, lots of guns. It has some of the clichés, like a vengeance quest plot and that weird finger twitch they do around their holsters before they draw their guns. But it also has a lot you wouldn’t normally see in a Western, and I don’t mean just the anachronistic swear words.
Wikipedia calls this movie a “revisionist Western” and you can tell that not just by the plot and the dialogue, but by the music. I don’t expect every Western to have that “*whistle * wah wah wah” sound or a lot of banjo and geetar pluckin’ while an old-fashioned-sounding choir sing. But I certainly wasn’t expecting rap remixes. I don’t really know if it works or not, but it certainly was strange. There’s one moment in particular where a character dies and the choice of music really ruined the impact of it for me. There are also a lot of characters to keep track of and with a two-and-a-half hour run-time, it does drag in places.
Still, there’s a whole mess ‘a things to like about this here movin’ picture. The child actor at the beginning is amazing, and the rest of the cast does an incredible job as well. There’re some great action scenes, including a knife-versus-unloaded-shotgun fight which is beautifully shot and choreographed as are the rest of the fights. It can be quite funny, and it plays on some of the classic Western tropes while still maintaining the feel of a Western.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy this movie will depend a lot on your personal preferences. This isn’t the kind of movie that everyone will like. If you don’t like blood, this isn’t the movie for you. If you don’t like swearing, this is definitely not the movie for you. If you don’t like movies about black people, you’re a terrible person and you should stop reading this and rethink your life. Every character who affects the plot in any meaningful way is played by a black actor, including Idris Elba as the villain, which is always a good sign. But this really isn’t a movie about race, as I thought it would be. There’s one scene where race relations could be considered touched upon, but it’s not the focus of the movie.
Will it revitalize interest in Westerns? Quite possibly. Is it going to win any major awards? Maybe. Will it deserve them? I don’t really know, but overall, it’s a fun watch if you like it’s sort of thing. If you have a Netflix account or can use someone else’s and the aforementioned qualifiers don’t apply to you, give it a watch.