The Harder They Come Reviews
In his acting debut, we get musician Jimmy Cliff as Ivan, a young man from the country who comes to Kingston to try to make a better life for himself. He dreams of hitting it big as a music star, and, while that does happen, he gets caught up in the world of being an outlaw as well. The story has the familiar ring of rags to riches, dealing with fame and success, but ultimately gets saved by a solid lead performance, and a superb reggae soundtrack provided by Cliff, The Maytals, and a few others.
Also, it is my understanding that this film was also the first time where wide audiences were shown a clear divide between the Jamaica of the tourism industry, and how it really is. It's not so revelatory now, but I'm sure this was quite something back in the early 70s. Thankfully the film is merely showing and telling it like it is, as opposed to being an exploitative venture into the dark underbelly of a supposed paradise. This revealing of how it is also includes jabs as the country's music scene, and the inherent corruption involved with it.
I dug this film a lot, but I don't think it's quite the landmark as its often labeled. Don't get me wrong, it's is quite good, but it didn't grab me like it has a lot of others. It's worth seeing though, especially if you dig reggae, and, if you're not familiar with Jamaica, the film does have occasional subtitles, which are nice since sometimes the accents are so thick, and the manner of speaking is so strong that the film would be all but incomprehensible otherwise for non-natives.
All in all, this is a pretty good time. It's a tad overrated, but enjoyable nonetheless.
I first saw this in a cinema in 1995 and it was fully subtitled, I watched it again last night and it had no subtitles. It was slightly hard to follow some of the very thick dialogue so I suggest if you have the choice that you go for the subtitles unless patwa is a very familiar dialect to you.
The plot takes swipes at the exploitative music business but also the nature of celebrity and the problems of drugs. However at it's heart it's a reggae gangster movie that is gritty and enjoyable. The story is involving but really it's the detail of the setting that carries the film. The camera allows a great sense of place and really captures the mood and place well, using crowd shots and wandering shots to music. Really the best scenes are all natural as music plays in the fore ground.
The music is one of the strongest aspects to the film ? where the gangster element is sprawling and relaxed, the music allows us to accept this whole chilled out vibe as just part of the film. The cast also helps greatly by being very realistic without much effort, not trying to make the accent easier is a brave move if you want to sell the film! Cliff is easily believable and very watchable, likewise almost all the cast are great ? many not being actors.
Overall the plot may wander in the way only a Jamaican can! But the music and the vibe more than make this a cult film that is well worth watching whether with subtitles or not!
[font=Century Gothic]"The Harder They Come" is not exactly polished filmmaking. The film does take a dubious turn in the second half but it is helped by a catchy soundtrack and something of a social conscience.(For example, there is no shortcut to fame and fortune.) And a very important conversation happens towards the end of the film which sums everything up nicely...[/font]
Sure, it may not really pass the test of time too well, but the music gives the movie another edge that others lack. In a weird way, it's like a crime thriller musical set in Jamaica with reggae. It's strange, yet oddly satisfying. Nonetheless, the soundtrack is great and one of the main reasons to watch this movie, otherwise on it's own it's a fun grindhouse-y flick. Pretty decent for a movie night or something.
PROS: Great soundtrack, entertaining plot, some awesome editing moments
CONS: Slow start, hard to follow
On a related note who the fuck updated my Tekkon Kinkreet review
Ivan has a problem not unfamiliar to most kids in his circumstance: poverty. Living in the slums of Jamaica in the early '70's, nobody wants to give him a job. Cops harass him on a regular basis, and there seems to be little chance of his fulfilling his dream of being a singer. Every day seems like a fight, both literally and figuratively, and when he finally gets to cut a record, the recording engineer offers him a measly $20 for his trouble, when he knows its worth much more. Such is the world of THE HARDER THEY COME (Perry Henzell, 1972), the Jamaican equivalent of the hood movie, ala SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (John Badham, 1977), COOLEY HIGH (Michael Schultz, 1975), and the many that came later. Heck, the roots of this kind of movie actually come from films like THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931, William Wellman) and DEAD END (1937, William Wyler) - it's a very old genre, and the story is familiar: kid with no future thanks to poverty reverts to crime; falls hard as a result. But this one has a couple of twists. First, the star is Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, second, it's Jamaican, so much so that I honestly only understood about 60% of this film (accents are that thick), and finally, the kid's music career goes nowhere /until/ he becomes an outlaw and thus, folk hero, ala NATURAL BORN KILLERS (Oliver Stone, 1994), or even before that, BONNIE AND CLYDE (Arthur Penn, 1967). I name all of these films because the thing they all have in common is the thing I liked most about this film: the impetuousness of youth.
Like all of the films in this genre, THE HARDER THEY COME is a Romantic ideal - die young, leave a beautiful corpse; have a lot of fun along the way. At one time, it seemed that easy to all of us, before the real, adult world got in the way. In Ivan's case, this happens with the accompaniment of great Reggae music, which makes the whole thing that much more fun. Ironically, the low budget also gives it a Neorealist quality that makes the action that much more compelling, and I don't know if I can say "that much more" that many more times. Because that's what makes this movie great - it's more than just a hood movie, more than just a music film, more than just a foreign film from Jamaica, but a really cool hybrid of all three. And I loved it.
On a personal note, way back when I worked in the biz, my old boss thought about remaking this film with a Hip Hop vibe, and the sad thing is, you couldn't. Not because the material doesn't translate - it would actually translate great - but because now we have the machine, so the raw energy of a self-made film can't be duplicated. Even your so-called independent films are not all that independent anymore, so to get a raw expression like this isn't possible in this day and age. Don't believe me? Watch PURPLE RAIN (1984). Then watch GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' (Jim Sheridan, 2005). I rest my case.