Better Mus Come is a film that shows how cold war politics infected the Jamaican political landscape of the late 1970s. Political parties, acting as proxies for the superpowers, used existing local gangs to influence or determine election outcomes. The resulting corruption and political violence in the movie is projected through the lens of a love story.
The movie works because of its simplicity: it is a very good story that has been built around a real historical event, specifically, the Green Bay Massacre. To its credit though the film never feels like a documentary. The story has good characters, who are not exaggerations, but real people—they act predictably yet are realistically portrayed. Most characters, whether they are agreeable or disagreeable, are portrayed with dignity; they act because of their material conditions and not simply motivated by egoist concerns. The effect is that you are watching real people that you can identify with, and you become engaged in the story.
The story is also told without an ideological bias; you never find yourself vying for one political party or the other. Whether the writer, cinematographer, and director, Storm Saulter, is a JLP or PNP man, is unclear and is irrelevant. The movie follows the life of Ricky (Sheldon Shepard), an impoverished single father struggling to survive. He ekes out a living as a mason stealing cement from construction sites at night, and by stealing PNP ballot boxes during the day. Ricky meets Kemala (Nicole “Sky” Grey), a beautiful young woman, who lives in an area with strong PNP support. The two soon develop a deep love for each other—it does not manifest as typical Western romantic love, but as a deep-seated genuine concern-driven love--real love. Though Saulter does climax this love by way of a graphic, passionate sex scene, the movie never became fixated on their sexual passion but remained centered on the daily struggle of life in Jamaica. The love scene does, however, serve to deepen their relationship and commitment, because, it is after it, that Ricky reaches a crossroads: he gives his son to Kemala to nurture, with the hope that she will be the core of their family. Thus, subliminally, sex is the vehicle for life; not simply for its own sake or for gratification but for its procreative potential. The crossroads aspects is also reinforced by when they had sex; it was at a point that he confronted life itself—after he was shot.
Did the movie make a subliminal association of “black” with “evil" by having the Jamaican Defence Force special forces undercover agent, the darkest person in the film be the person that perhaps evoked the most animosity? (He seemed to relish killing folks.) That would depend on whether you favored socialism or were supportive of the PNP, the legally-elected government party. If you did, then he becomes a force for righteousness, and not one for evil. So such an association of blackness with evil would be necessarily forced. The opposite, in fact, could be argued.
The cinematography is very good. It presents the color and vibrancy of Jamaica. But it is not through the lens of a tourist but as a Jamaican; we see the beauty of the landscape as they see it. The angle of the camera shots are those of a well-schooled cinematographer; we never get the impression that he is trying out new amateurish techniques that don't work or that he is using overuse ones that are contrite and commonplace. The viewer feels he or she is part of the movie. In other words you realize the cinematography is good because you never questions the credulity of what you are viewing. The camera shot when Ras David intervene on behalf of the woman was great. You didn't know who was shot. On several occasions the director used the camera angle or cut-aways to enrapt and confuse the audience. It was done at the end of the movie with Ricky and Flames.
The music also enhanced the film. I thought I was going to hear a lot of reggae period music. In fact, I thought the movie would be an advertisement for reggae and reggae artist of the time. But it wasn't. It was a movie that had a soundtrack that fit the various scenes and emotional timbre of the movie. It was like the soundtrack was made for the film, and not the inverse or that the film tried to fit the music to it. Now whether it can be sold as a soundtrack in its own right, I am not sure if it can.
Aside from actor Roger Guenveur Smith, Saulter utilizes a cast of mostly local talent, often nonprofessional actors. But the movie does introduces two actors that gave notable performances, Sheldon Shepard and Nicole “Sky” Grey. Taking a note from Spike Lee, Saulter said some of the acting and dialogue was unscripted. I believe this is a technique that captured a realism that can't be scripted. Saulter also handled the protagonist in a interesting and realistic fashion. There is no hero-worshiping or standard ending to this movie, but a sort of pseudo-predestination implicit in the ending. Ricky's fate is reminiscent of the City of God's “Knockout Ned's, and perhaps with the same ethical justification.
I thought the treatment of Rastafari was favorable but not over the top. The movie was not a “Rasta movie” but it presented the group as altruistic and spiritually-driven. The elders possessed calm serenity and wisdom. (And they smoked “big spliffs.”) Ricky is drawn to their spirituality but mired in his day to day existent. It is part of his dilemma; the crossroads at which he remained.
The movie was very good, excellent even, and I highly recommend it. It speaks to the experience of Afrikan people struggling with their existence in a Western created, Eurocentric world, that is anti-Afrikan, anti-natal, anti damn-near everything except profit and exploitation. This film should be added to your film collection, placed right next to your other classics. It demonstrates the value of a good movie, and proves a good picture is worth more than a thousand words. We need more movies like this one--ones that tell our story, and speak our special truth.