Poor country boy Ivan Martin (Jimmy Cliff) leaves the countryside and heads to the city (Kingston) in search of fame and fortune. Ivan finds the promise that the streets of the big city are laden with opportunity a myth but refuses to give up on his dream and, although having recorded a hit record, he finds himself drawn into the ganja trade and the rude boy lifestyle.
A lot of films get given the tag’s “Cult Classic”, “Independent film Classic” and similar, and while to varying degree’s they may or may not deserve the titles, “The Harder They Come” is almost the definition of both. Working on commercials and for the BBC in Jamaica, director Perry Henzell always dreamed of making a feature film, and not just any feature film, but one with its roots firmly in his homeland of Jamaica. Perry had told people he not only intended to make such a movie, but he also intended to make it a success and the story of the process (covered in the documentary, “A Hard Road to Travel”) is almost as interesting as the film is good. When people think of Jamaica, feature films are not high on the list of things that come to mind, more than likely they will think of Reggae music and Bob Marley, Ganja and Gangsters or those hideous foreign-owned resorts that the nation’s people are kept out of. For a low budget movie full of a cast of unknowns and the first film made by the Jamaican film industry in 1972, “The Harder They Come” set a lot of firsts and has a resounding effect on influence on film since. This is really one of the first films for which the OST and was an integral selling point for the film, one of the first films to be shot on the then new Super 16 format and certainly the first film by a 3rd world nation that really showed life for the poor in such a nation. The stylistic and plot influences from this film can be seen in movies like Scarface, Taxi Driver, Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil), Men with Guns as well as in the works of Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
Jimmy Cliff is fantastic in the lead role, utterly convincing as the man who just wants his share of the pie as he sings in the title song “as sure as the sun will shine, I’m going to get my share, what’s mine ... because the harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all ...”. Ivan’s view on life is best summed up by the conversation he has with his devoutly Christian girlfriend in which he says “you want me to go and beg work for 10 dollars a day, I tried that, Id rather die ...” and in the same scene after she calls him a dreamer he replies “me a dreamer? Who’s a bigger dreamer than you, always talking about milk and honey in the sky, well no milk and honey in the sky, not for you, not for me, it's right down here and I want mine now, tonight!” Considering the majority of the cast had never been in front of a camera before the acting is excellent, with standout performers from Bobby Charlton as the record boss Hilton who gives Ivan a measly twenty dollars for his record and Carl Bradshaw as the area’s ganja boss.
One of the excellent plot devices and a standout moment from the movie is the cinema showing of Django which Ivan attends with Jose, in which he is totally fascinated by Franco Nero’s genre defining performance and, when fearing that Django may die is told “Don’t be a fool man, you think the hero can die before the last reel”, the film leaves a big mark on Ivan and plays a pivotal role in “The Harder They Come's” finale. There are so many standout scenes in this film though, showing us both the highs and lows of Ivan existence as he goes all out after his dream of success and good living. Classic are the moment when, as a now legendary gunman on the run and anti hero for the oppressed “sufferers” of the Kinston Ghetto’s are the scenes when Ivan dressed in full rudeboy regalia takes his own glamorous gunman shots and sends them to the newspapers and when he takes a luxury car for a spin on a golf cause. Ivan's record, Jimmy Cliffs fantastic reggae standard “The Harder They Come” becomes a hit as his legend grows, but by now the law is closing on Ivan leading to one cult films most memorable scenes as Ivan, like his screen hero Django faces off against insurmountable odds and cal'sl out “one bad man, who can draw.” I recently read an article in which actor Benicio Del Toro listed this as one of his top 5 favorite films of all time and it's good after 30 years people can still see the genius in this movie from Jamaica. Passed off as yet another Blaxsploitation movie in the USA and given the tagline “he’s got a plan to stick it to the man,” the director took back the rights from Roger Corman and went on to sell the film himself, it took him 6 years but the movie finally made a profit. The film has gone on to find legendry status amogst fans of cult film, reggae and people who just like a damn good movie.
Great Characters, great scenes, great music and a great movie