Harder They Come [1972]

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music
Director-producer Perry Henzel's all-Jamaican-made 1973 classic, one of the most beloved and longest-running of all international cult favorites, fiercely expresses the live-wire Jamaican spirit--an impoverished Africa tuned to American radio. The film also incorporates an archetypal passion for "outlaw" justice common to American Westerns, which were a staple of the Caribbean theater circuit at the time. Released just 12 years after Jamaica achieved independence, The Harder They Come also reflects the disenchantment that soon followed a massive post-independence exodus from the island's country hamlets to the tropical ghettos of Kingston, where a more grinding urban poverty awaited. Brilliantly shot, directed, written, and acted, especially by singer Jimmy Cliff in the leading role and Carl Bradshaw as his archenemy, the film tells an anthemic Jamaican story to seductive rhythms of a soundtrack that became a reggae bestseller. Ivan, a country boy who dreams of fame as a singer, rides into Kingston on a rickety country bus in the opening scenes, only to meet with disaster heaped on disaster, always at the hands of those masked as friends. In a breathless defining climax, Ivan finally breaks from his passivity and begins to wreak his revenge. Soon Kingston's music Mafia and the equally corrupt authorities are after him, but like the real-life people's hero (a man named Rhygin) on whom this character is partially based, Ivan leads them on a maddening chase--much to the delight of the people--eluding capture until the movie's shocking final moments. --Elena Oumano

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