Reggae star Jimmy Cliff is Ivan, a young man who journeys from the country to the big city, only to meet hardship and adversity. His struggle for survival eventually leads to a life of crime, transforming the aspiring singer into an outlaw folk hero. An international counterpart to Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, The Harder They Come is a bare-bones, rough-around-the-edges tale of a classic antihero standing up to a system that has systematically oppressed him. In the world of Henzell's film, law enforcement, the church and big business (represented by an unscrupulous music producer) are hopelessly corrupt, forcing the innocent to become criminals in order to survive.
Regarded primarily as a cult film and remembered more for its incredible soundtrack (one of the best of all time), The Harder They Come ranks among other great films of that era, including Kinji Fukasaku's Street Mobster and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.