The Harder They Come (1972)

harder they come poster 1972 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Interesting and different voice than normally experienced at the time

Story may take more than one viewing to unwrap

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Harder They Come

Studio: International Films

Genre(s): Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  June 5, 1972 (Jamaica)/Feburary 8, 1973 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

harder they come jimmy cliff recording music reggae

Now the song is forever in your head…thanks, Ivan!

With the death of his grandmother, Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin (Jimmy Cliff) has left his farm home and traveled to Kingston to start a new life.  Ivan has dreams and knows he has the ability and skills to achieve those dreams.  When he pens and performs a reggae song called “The Harder They Come”, he thinks it could be his big break.  Ivan is going to find out that he’s the one that is going to be falling hard.

Directed by Perry Henzell (who also wrote the script with Trevor D. Rhone), The Harder They Come is a Jamaican crime drama.  The film is credited for expanding the reach of reggae music through its soundtrack and became a cult classic with viewers.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #83) which is out-of-print.

The Harder They Come is one of those movies I checked out simply because it was released by the Criterion Collection.  I didn’t know much about the film nor knew there was much of a “Caribbean” film network that would have produced a major motion picture.  The film has its moments and does have a nice grittiness to it that makes it memorable.

harder they come ivan jose jimmy cliff carl bradshaw

Imagine the luck of not one but two of my everyday outfits being used in the film!

The story for the film is a bit strange.  In a normal film like this, it seems like the character enjoys fame, fun, or prosperity and then falls.  Movies like Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, and even A Clockwork Orange have this path for their “heroes”.  Ivan never makes it over the hump.  He doesn’t even really get to enjoy his lawlessness like a Bonnie and Clyde.  His song gets popular (which is his goal…he has an infamy is better than not being known in his mind), and it is believed that his song will live on due to his actions, but it isn’t a film about hidden talent becoming a success which is a nice change.

Jimmy Cliff is likeable as Ivan though he has a dark mean streak that seems rather inconsistent.  The character feels he has to prove he isn’t just a “country guy” and seems to go from kind and caring to dangerous rather quickly.  There is the scene where he slices up a man’s face and his various killings in the last sequence (as he imagines himself as Django).  Cliff and all the actors in the film have very thick Jamaican accents and colloquialism that are often supplemented by subtitles, but you are able to pick a lot more up by the end of the film once you are immersed in the world.

harder they come jimmy cliff ivan motorcycle

Ivan…we’re going to be best friends forever…right?

The movie has that dirty, gritty look that I love in movies from the period.  This is added to the different world of Jamaica which isn’t often seen in movies (except an outsider’s view).  The movie at points doesn’t feel much different than a Scorsese film, but then you are reminded that it is happening in a different country with different societal views.

The Harder They Come is a movie that was a nice “discovery” (I realize it is known).  It was a film I’d like to give some time to check out again now that I know where the movie is headed.  The character is an interesting one and the social status of the characters he associates with also feel real and in trouble.  Give the movie a shot, and you’ll probably leave with the theme song stuck in your head.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response