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Epic if Uneven, Better Mus' Come Pulls You Into Jamaica's 1970s Turmoil

'Why is it so easy to die for nothing?" asks a character in Better Mus' Come, a gorgeous (if at times overripe) melodrama set during the deadly political unrest of late-'70s Jamaica. The question is posed to Ricky (Sheldon Shepherd, drop-dead handsome), a Robin Hood figure in his community who doles out money to the needy and serves as mediator of neighborhood skirmishes while also leading a gang whose m.o. is brutal violence—from robbing homes to being guns-for-hire for politicians engaged in bloody political theater. But with a fledgling love interest, Kemala (Nicole Sky Grey), and newfound determination that his young son not get caught up in the violence that surrounds him, Ricky is caught in a spiritual crisis: Survival demands that he get his hands dirty in morally repugnant actions, yet his deepening consciousness nags at him. Written and directed by Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter, whose background in American music videos is obvious, and inspired by Jamaica's infamous Green Bay Massacre of 1978, the film is epic in ambition, aiming to comment on global politics of the time and the specific turmoil in Jamaica while also portraying a love story, the struggles of single parenthood, the ambience of poverty in poor Jamaican communities, and the spiritual edicts of Rastafarian practice. Uneven acting by the cast and a script that could have used at least one more overhaul to synthesize its elements (the love story is so flimsily mapped out as to be unbelievable) cripple Saulter's ambitions, but the energy of the film pulls you in and holds you through its tragic ending.

 
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