Better Mus Come – Visually Arresting

The film Better Mus Come, written and directed by Storm Saulter, has had an over long gestation period. For a while, as the premier date kept shifting further and further back, the film seemed to have become akin to  a politician’s promise – something stated with passion, but would never see the light of day. Finally it has arrived and it was well worth the wait.

Better Mus Come is an ambitious and thought provoking work. The film is

 

Orgill, Shepherd, Creary

(l-r) Flames, Ricky and Shortman prepare for a job.

 

a thoughtful look at survival, love, redemption, corruption, and betrayal. It attempts to grapple with the roots of violence in Kingston’s ghettos while showing the tangled web woven between them, party politics and the the fight for survival as thugs, dons and boys who would be men battle over turf and fight to be respect, if only because they have a gun on their hips.

Better Mus Come made its first public appearance at the second Flashpoint Film Festival in 2006 as a short film, when it made the promise of being something to look out for. The feature length version appeared in 2008. It was an epic film in the making, but one in need of strong and careful editing. Storm and Paul Bucknor (the film’s producer who also shares editing credits with its director) clearly returned to the editing room and preformed much needed surgery removing the flab and creating a leaner, more coherent and potent film.

Better Mus Come is visually arresting work as the director’s grasp of cinematic language is one of its strongest elements. Though it is set in the turbulent 1970s Jamaica, it remains relevant to today’s politically divided Jamaica, where dons continue to rule enclaves. One cannot help but note that despite its reflection of more the country more than three decades ago, the film could have been describing events three months ago. So, though Better Mus Come was shot in contemporary Jamaica, the set remains is true of the 1970s era, reminding us that not much (other than clothing) has changed. Indeed, the constant chant of the political activists in the movie “better mus come” echoes the real life chant of “we want justice”. A cry so often made that it has become a joke but like anything truly funny, there is truth at its core. The film therefore wrestles with the concept that in many ways people will try to find ways to survive while they await justice or the better that they believe must one day come.

 

creary

Shortman learns the danger of being a lone thug on the wrong side of the border

 

Better Mus Come benefits from well crafted characters and strong performances by its lead actors Sheldon Shepherd (Ricky), Everaldo Creary (Shortman) and Ricardo Orgill (Flames). Shepherd (and his abs) present a solid lead. Shepherd has sufficient charisma to convincingly portray the lead, though his portrayal of the conflicted, sensitive yet violent Ricky required more nuance than he brought to bear. Even so, he managed a convincing character who was believably a violent man and a caring and strong father figure.

Ricardo Orgill delivers a convincing portrayal of a cold calculating thug who puts his own survival above all else, willing to kill without thought and accept any job for the right price. Flames contrasts well against Ricky who is torn by both a sense of morality, a sense of hope as well as a desire for more for himself and his family.

Everaldo Creary gives a sterling performance as Shortman. Creary has great promise, if he manages to sidestep  the ease with which he could be stereotyped, especially in light comedic roles. Though he has landed more roles in comedy, he is a dynamic actor and his stint as Shortman highlights this.

Nicole Grey, who plays Kemala, is earnest but uninspiring in her performance and her character feels the least authentic, or what is otherwise a great cast. Furthermore, the chemistry between Shepherd and Grey is not as strong as it needed to be to heighten the story’s poignancy through the romance, and it also doesn’t help that their love scene is at best uninteresting.

Where the lead actors benefit from natural talent, however, they are unable to handle the pace at which the director wants the dialogue. As a result, pregnant beats become unexplained pauses and slows the pace of the dialogue and allows the story to occasionally sag.

It is inevitable that Better Mus Come will be compared with Jamaica’s seminal rude bwoi flick, The Harder They Come, particularly when Better Mus Come’s ending patterns the earlier work in terms of both setting and scenario. Both films also attempt to locate Rastafari and the hero’s connection to it as their sign of redemption, with Better Mus Come placing a stronger emphasis on this. Better Mus Come is clearly an inheritor of that earlier work and it carries on Jamaica’s romance with the rude bwoi persona and bears the weight of his swagger well.
Pulling on the feel of the 1970s, the film’s style reflects rock steady with a hint of reggae, though the score is not dependent on the music of the era. Not only are the major players from the rude bwoi archetype, but the dialogue often flows along a slow and deadly emphasis.

Better Mus Come is miles ahead of Storm’s first effort Twang, which premiered at the inaugural Flashpoint Film Festival. In fact the film is miles ahead of any film coming from our fair isle in recent history both in terms of the gravity of the issues it grapples with as well as the rich visual fare that it provides. Better Mus Come appears to be a promise, that though the Jamaican film industry has been slow in building momentum and has experienced fits and starts, better mus come, and it has.

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