The Harder They Come - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Harder They Come Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 15, 2012
This is probably the most well-known and important film to come from Jamaica. And, while it might not have been intentional, you could also lump this in as a blaxploitation film if you so desired.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ October 30, 2011
A must see for anyone interested in Reggae music. A totally authentic look at Kingston in the early 1970's.
Super Reviewer
½ October 12, 2010
It makes up in talent what it lacks in budget. Amazing songs, feeling of sheer authenticity, social commentary and gripping guerrilla filmmaking
Super Reviewer
October 16, 2009
Ivan is a country boy in Jamaica who comes to see his Grandmother and `make it big' by recording a record. However when he finds himself exploited by a record producer he turns to drug running to make money. When he kills a cop who is in on the trade he goes on the run and finds fame as an outlaw standing up against `the man'.

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!
Super Reviewer
April 12, 2008
Groundbreaking Jamaican classic film from the early 1970's that has become a cult classic in its own right and made Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff a international superstar. The soundtrack to this film is vintage wine and it is timeless,
Super Reviewer
January 11, 2008
groundbreaking jamaican gangster film that introduced reggae to the world. jimmy cliff plays rude boy ivan who moves to the city and becomes an outlaw and folk hero. based on a true story, this film was a sensation in the 70's. extra half star for the awesome soundtrack. and thank god for subtitles!
Super Reviewer
½ October 18, 2006
It plays like a mix between Scarface and City of God, with a bit of blacksploitation thrown in. The lead character starts out with nothing, and tries to gain things honestly before turning to crime, and becoming an even bigger success. A cult film, that takes place in Jamaica, it's easy to believe you can watch this more and more, and like it more. The reggae soundtrack is also very nicely done. For a movie from the 70s like this, the camera work is also very nice, and so are the characters involved. A cool groove of a movie.
Super Reviewer
December 23, 2005
[font=Century Gothic]In "The Harder They Come", a poor young man from the country, Ivan(Jimmy Cliff), has ventured to the city to deliver money from his grandmother's estate to his mother. He wants to remain in the city to pursue a recording career. After a frustrating search for any kind of employment, he finds a job and shelter with a preacher. Ivan takes more than a platonic interest in the preacher's favorite, Elsa(Janet Barkley), thus setting up things for a showdown...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[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]
October 8, 2014
I watched this flick with a friend who made a request for this film. If you can understand the strong Jamaican accents, by all means, watch it. I needed the closed captions. But even with the closed captions, the arrangement of the flavortext was difficult to understand, and most of this film is conversation. The cast is unique, and act with passion on queue.
½ March 10, 2013
This cult Jamaican film was one of the major factors in reggae becoming popular outside of Jamaica and in the United States. Jimmy Cliff, an actual reggae star, plays a young wannabe singer who ends up in the Marijuana trade and turns to violence and on the run from the cops, with his music career never truly taking off. It is a solid movie that failed initially at the US box office for a few reasons: firstly, a film with thick Jamaican accents is a tough sell to most mainstream audiences; and secondly it was marketed as a blaxploitation film and really shouldn't have. I liked the film, I liked Cliff, and I liked the music.
October 14, 2012
It's definitely interesting to get a look out at 70's Jamaica, since it's something we don't see very often portrayed in movies. While, the movie starts slow, but ends up being a fairly entertaining romp. The movie is obviously fairly low budget, but it doesn't work against what the movie is going for. The actors are decent, the action is fun, and the editing is great.

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
½ September 6, 2011
I think there's a good, possibly great, film in there somewhere but it's hampered by a lack of experience all around. There's something of a raw power to it, but it doesn't manage to overpower the shortcomings.
July 16, 2010
Soundtrack is about ten times more awesome than the movie. I hate to say it but the fact that I couldn't understand what they were saying made me grow tired of it real quick. Like, I seriously occasionally wasn't sure if they were even speaking English. Which would have been fine if the subtitles on the DVD I rented weren't so shabby. Bitch, you don't know which parts of the dialogue I couldn't understand, how about you just show me everything every character is saying?

On a related note who the fuck updated my Tekkon Kinkreet review
½ May 26, 2010
Considering El Topo was a midnight movie, I'm not surprised this one was either. But if I hadn't known that I would be. It's really interesting to watch. Has a pretty interesting Reggae soundtrack. It's interesting that there are subtitles throughout parts of the movie because the actors are speaking in broken sentences and they translate it as if they were speaking in complete sentences.
½ March 27, 2010
a struggling man with a will to make it, yet had to do it all on his own, with his back against the world. He made it... Great movie... his music became an icon.
January 2, 2010
Perhaps this would have played better with me had I seen it in the 70s and not been familiar with the tunes. I think Jimmy Cliff's performance is good, but the plot is a bit too outrageous for me. Like when the kids are chasing after him when he's in a shootout. Give me a break!!!!
December 29, 2009
A really good flick, with Jimmy Cliff doing a fantastic job as the lead character. He plays a charismatic anti-hero, kind of a Clyde Barrow with no Bonnie. Cliff has a dynamic screen presence, dripping with Jamaican cool and a winning smile. His escapades are very entertaining, as he gets deeper into trouble while continuing to fight a system of corruption in the music business, the ganja trade, and the police. And of course, there's that catchy reggae soundtrack.
½ December 11, 2009
Oh, to be young again!

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.
½ August 26, 2009
I wish I knew what the fuck Ivan and his gangster buddies were saying, since they are always high and slurring in their thick Jamaican slang. Subtitles don't help. Soundtrack is brilliant, covering up the prosaic nature of its paint-by-numbers storyline.
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