Tuesday, February 11, 2020
The Harder They Come
Directed by Perry Henzell and written by Henzell and Trever D. Rhone, The Harder They Come is the story of a man trying to find work as he becomes a singer until a dispute with his producer forces him to venture into crime. The film is an exploration of a man just trying to survive and have the chance to make a living only to become a folk hero of sorts just as the song he’s created is becoming an anthem for the people of Jamaica. Starring Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Heartman, Basil Keane, Robert Charlton, and Winston Stona. The Harder They Come is a thrilling and riveting film from Perry Henzell.
The film follows a naïve man from the countryside as he arrives to the city looking for work as he decides to become a singer where he creates a hit song but gets little from its success prompting him to turn to crime. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into a man trying to make a new life in Kingston but there are little opportunities as he also endures rules and prejudices that is foreign to him. The film’s screenplay by Perry Henzell and Trever D. Rhone is largely straightforward as it follows the character Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin (Jimmy Cliff) who arrives to Kingston from the countryside to live with his mother but things don’t go well as well as finding work and such. Yet, he wants to be a singer as he often encounters trouble with a preacher whose adopted daughter Ivan has interest in as well as people who take advantage of him. Upon recording a song that becomes a hit, he tries to sell it independently but ends up getting $20 from a music producer as it would lead to more trouble as he turns to crime where he deals in drugs and becomes a Robin Hood figure of sorts fighting against corruption and injustice.
Henzell’s direction does have elements of style in the presentation of crime scenes as much of it is straightforward as it is shot largely on location in and around Kingston, Jamaica. There is a looseness to Henzell’s direction as the wide shots get a look into the locations as much of the direction has Henzell use close-ups and medium shots to get a look into the atmosphere of the shantytowns in Kingston as well as the places that Ivan goes to. The usage of hand-held cameras add to the liveliness of the film such as a club scene where Ivan hears his record being played along with some of the action as they mirror some of the images of westerns that he and others saw earlier in the film. Henzell also play into this world of corruption involving the police, record producers, and marijuana suppliers with Ivan getting caught in the middle as Henzell does create this air of suspense and intrigue but also fantasy as it play into Ivan’s embrace of being famous either for the song he created or for the crimes he’s committed. Overall, Henzell crafts an exhilarating and gripping film about a country bumpkin whose desire to become a singer in the city leads him into the world of crime and infamy.
Cinematographers Peter Jessop, David McDonald, and Franklyn St. Juste do excellent work with the film’s cinematography as they use grainy camera footage to capture a realism of the locations as well as using available light for some of the scenes set at night. Editors Reicland Anderson, John Victor-Smith, and Richard White do terrific work with the editing as it has elements of style in some of the jump-cuts and montages that play into Ivan’s many misadventures. Art director Sally Henzell does nice work with the look of some of the places that Ivan goes including a bar and a few homes he would crash at.
The sound work of Bob Povey and Winston Rodney is superb for capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the way music sounds on a radio or at a club. The film’s music soundtrack is incredible as it features songs by Jimmy Cliff, Scotty, Desmond Dekker, the Slickers, and the Maytals as it is all rooted in reggae music as it has many songs on the soundtrack that stand out including its titular track and You Can Get It If You Really Want that are both sung by Cliff.
The film’s wonderful cast feature an appearance from reggae music legend Prince Buster as a DJ at a club, Leslie Kong as a recording engineer, Basil Keane as the preacher who doesn’t like Ivan, Carl Bradshaw as a friend of Ivan in Jose, and Ras Daniel Heartman as the dealer Pedro. Janet Bartley is fantastic as the young woman Elsa whom Ivan would fall for as she becomes troubled by his criminal activities later on while Bob Charlton is excellent as the corrupt music producer Hilton who makes money through payola. Winston Stona is brilliant as Detective Ray Jones as a corrupt police official who helps control the drug trade as he finds Ivan as someone who is just disrupting everything. Finally, there’s Jimmy Cliff in a phenomenal performance as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin as this country bumpkin who arrives to the city looking for work to pay for his chance to be a singer yet endures corruption and uncertainty as he goes into crime where Cliff brings in some charm as well as that naiveté into a man who doesn’t understand how hard the ways of the world is at it is an iconic performance from Cliff.
The Harder They Come is a sensational film from Perry Henzell that features a great performance from Jimmy Cliff. Along with its compelling story of social and geographical differences, lively visuals, and a killer music soundtrack. It’s a film that explore the world of Jamaica at a time when reggae is starting to emerge as well as a man trying to become famous or die trying. In the end, The Harder They Come is a phenomenal film from Perry Henzell.
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