Movie Review: The Harder They Come (1972)

Title: The Harder They Come
Release Date: 5 June 1972
Director: Perry Henzell
Production Company: International Films Inc.

The groundbreaking soundtrack from The Harder They Come has long been one of my favorite albums, but I’d never seen the movie until a 50th anniversary screening at The Brattle Theatre this week.  Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a young man who arrives in Kingston, Jamaica and tries to make ends meet while trying to break into the music business.  His repeated attempts at honest work fail and he eventually becomes a marijuana runner for a local gangster.  When he kills a police officer in a panic he goes on the lam and finally achieves the fame he desires as an outlaw.

The story is familiar and predictable but nevertheless well-told.  The story and style seems to have drawn influence from French New Wave movies like Breathless and it shares similarities with Senegal’s Touki Bouki, released the next year.  I particularly like the first half of the film which captures the feel and rhythms of early 1970s Kingston with a neorealist touch.  The latter part of the movie feels more like a hasty pastiche of Bonnie and Clyde. Ivan’s gleeful embrace of his outlaw status feels almost psychotic and he swiftly becomes a character hard to sympathize with.  Nevertheless it’s a fascinating period piece and a groundbreaking movie for Jamaican cinema.

And the soundtrack is just amazing.

Rating: ***1/2