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The Harder They Come  

Review: written 2005

Enthralling bleak realism with a reggae twist

This bleak tale set in Jamaica grabs hold of you and does not let go.

The story is of a young man Ivan, based loosely on a real-life newspaper story of the time, who comes from the country looking for work in the city. He finds only rejection and dishonesty, and is lured to a life of crime through having no other options. The oppression of poverty and corruption of the city oppresses him (and us the viewer) until he snaps, and embarks on a violent revenge to get what he feels he deserves. In the end, all he gets is a defining moment of violence in the final moments of the film. Westerns were popular in Jamaica at the time, and this is reflected in the moments of the Django movie we see Ivan watch with his friends, one of the few moments of pleasure we see him have. That movie moment is echoed effectively in the final scenes in helping us realise Ivan’s detachment from reality at that point.

The camerawork and locations are simultaneously obviously low budget and yet often brilliant. The hand-held camerawork combines with some often excellent cinematographic eye for creating a canvas, portraying a real and vivid Jamaica that you don't see in the travel brochures. The locations were largely what they could use for little cost, and yet every one effective in adding to the tale and the background colour, often making this feel like a documentary of life in Jamaica.

The realism is helped immensely by the cast, most of whom you get the feeling are portraying real vignettes from their lives and situations they can relate to. Jimmy Cliff is raw and full of the youthful energy his character is supposed to have.

The music is one of the defining characteristics of the picture, and even not being a reggae fan, the music and the way in which the scenes are shot long before music videos existed take hold of you and don't let you be tempted to push the fast forward button.

Admittedly the film is dated, and the transfer to film is without any restoration and so appears washed out and full of scratches and marks - but somehow this just adds to the feeling of poverty and once you get past it, does not detract from the enjoyment of the movie.

Rent this not for a blaxploitation movie or easy viewing, but for a defining moment in 70's cinema, in Jimmy Cliffs career, and in reggae music.

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