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April 26, 2004 | by  | in Film |
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(Classic Film Review) The Harder They Come

I thought Jamaica was all sun, giant reefers and smooooth, silky reggae beats. Okay, this movie doesn’t say that’s not Jamaica, but there’s also a whole lot of desperation and militancy behind all of it.

The beginning point to discuss about this film has to be its music. It’s got one of the greatest film scores around (I have it on good authority, from eminent music historian Gareth Roderick, that it is one of the best reggae compilations too). There’s more to reggae than Bob Marley, and tracks on this film include classics such ‘Draw Your Brakes’ by Scotty, ‘You Can Get it if You Really Want’ and the title track by Jimmy Cliff, and songs by the Maytals and Desmond Decker. The use of the music in the film is also top-notch, adding to the anger and feeling of the film.

The plot is fairly conventional – the deflowering, if you will, of an innocent country boy (Jimmy Cliff) who arrives in the city. Faced with corruption and hypocrisy from institutions such as the Church and police, he goes on a murderous rampage. This “on-the-run rampage from the Man” has been a fertile source for a good number of interesting films such as Bonnie and Clyde (USA), Utu (New Zealand) and Messidor (Switzerland), in showing national tension and popular mythology. As Jimmy Cliff says in the title track, “I’d rather be a free man in the grave / than living as a puppet or a slave”.

However, the film refuses to entirely glamorise Cliff as a hero. Sure he gets ripped off by a whole lot of people (easy targets in society) and it is the evils of society that he has to pay for. But he does ironically bring a lot on himself, through impetuosity and greed.

Director Perry Henzell has a great feel for Kingston and the Jamaican people. When I saw there were subtitles, I thought, how patronising – they do speak English there. (Reminded me of hearing that Trainspotting had subtitles in America.) However, you begin to realise they are a necessity, with the rapid-fire street slang making my efforts to ignore them futile. This is a very vibrant, powerful and angry film offering a view of country that’s not all bobsleds and dreadlocks.

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About the Author ()

Brannavan Gnanalingam has come a long way from being born in the teeming metropolis of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He may be known as feature writer for Salient, but is also the only man in history to have simultaneously donated both his kidneys. He is also an amateur rapper going under the moniker Brantank and hopes to win a Grammy.

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