Jamaica’s Ghett’a Life: Ghetto Rocky with Gangsters (7 Days of Cariwood Pt 5/7)

Julien Neaves – Editor

On March 28 the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival gave Caribbean viewers an isolation gift with #WatchaMovieOnUs:  Online Screening Series – 14 films shown over 14 days, each for 24 hours, on its website. Now as you would see in the RMR About section, one of the goals of this site is to promote Caribbean film, or “Cariwood” as I call it.

So ttff has inspired me to do my own review series, 7 Days of Cariwood, which will be a mix of the Online Screening Series films and other Caribbean films. For part 5 of my review series we will be skipping ttff’s film today the TT crime drama Bim (I previously did a review of it which you can read here) and we will be checking out 2011 Jamaican sports drama Ghett’a Life. And we will be keeping it spoiler free. Let’s do it in four rounds. Ding ding!

Round 1 – Oh that title

ghetta life 1
Meh will shoot out yuh eye hole, dutty bwoy!

Written and directed by Chris Browne Ghett’a Life tells the story of Derrick (Kevoy Burton), a young man in a Kingston ghetto who uses his boxing talents to elevate him out of poverty. But his opponents are not only the ones in the ring, but also rigid political party divisions and gangsters.

Firstly we have to talk about that name. Seriously, could they have come up with a more generic sounding movie title. It sounds like a documentary about life in the ghetto. Yes the plot is set in a ghetto but the focus is boxing, and a title that reflected or include that would have much more apt. Ghett’a Life just doesn’t do the film itself justice.

Round 2 – Eye ah de tiger

ghetta life 4
Meh know say yuh like meh, but meh nah really like maga man

One thing that’s muy importante in a sports movie is getting the sports scenes right. It can really make or break a film. Thankfully Browne frames the boxing matches well and, together with some great sound editing and performances, he delivers some hard hitting (pun very much intended) bouts. I mean the fights will not knock you out like Creed but it will scratch your boxing action itch.

Round 3 – Badman ah badman

ghetta life 2
Look into my eyes. Tell me what you see? Can you feel my pain? Am I your enemy?

The acting in Ghett’a Life is also pretty solid. Burton doesn’t do anything mind-blasting with his role but he is likeable and has a humble charm that makes him pretty easy to cheer for. But of the performances I most enjoyed the bad boys of the film, namely Kadeem Wilson as hard-gangster-with-a-heart Gully Rat and Chris McFarlane as the cold-blooded gangster leader Don Sin. Seriously, this dude is scary. And if he ever asks you to visit his machine shop it is best to politely decline.

Round 4 – Road to hope

ghetta life 3
Unu sure ‘im na di yute? How sure? 60 per cent? Ongly 60?

The best aspect of Ghett’a Life is how hopeful it is. Sure the movie presents the hardship of poverty, the seemingly inextricable political divisions and the brutality of the gangster lifestyle. But it also shows that talent and innovation can lead to elevation, party loyalties can be set aside for a greater good, and the evil of gangsterism can be overcome.

The film is a bit of a spiritual predecessor to 2018 Jamaican sports drama Sprinter, which also featured Wilson, though the newer film had the bigger budget, was more polished and featured a tighter, more unique script. Ghett’a Life, however,  despite its cliches and limited budget (you will be seeing some locations repeated a lot) is a really well told story and worth going ten rounds with. I still hate that title though.

Score: 7 out of 10

For my review of Sprinter you can click here. And for my part 4 of 7 Days of Cariwood and Bahamian thriller Cargo you can click here.

Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. Also loves promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and is an aspiring author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Can also be found talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.