DVD Review: Harsh Times
By Patrick Luce Mar 16, 2007, 14:32 GMT
Bale stars as an ex-Army Ranger who finds himself slipping back into his old life of petty crime and booze after a job offer from the LAPD evaporates. Honorable discharged, Homeland Security wants to recruit him for some special ops in Central America, but first he has to pass a urine test...which proves difficult. Film directorial debut for Ayer who has written such box office hits as TRAINING DAY, U-571 ...more
Harsh Times is described as “an explosive ride on the mean streets of south central Los Angeles,” but comes across as a chaotic film that never fully works. While it isn’t as good as I had hoped, the film does manage to tell an interesting story, and features an intense performance from Christian Bale.
The film is written and directed by David Ayer (the writer behind Training Day, Dark Blue, and S.W.A.T.), and stars Bale (Batman Begins), Freddy Rodríguez (Grindhouse), and Eva Longoria ("Desperate Housewives").
For the film, Ayer again returns to the streets of Los Angeles, but this time focuses on two friends that are trying to rise above their petty crime past and find new careers – or at least on the surface that is what it looks like they are doing.
Jim Davis (Bale) served in the military and has returned to Los Angeles to pursue a career in law enforcement. From the start of the film it is clear that he has a bit of a screw loose, and a tendency towards violence. Mike Alonzo (Rodríguez) is on parole and trying to find a job to please his live in girlfriend Sylvia (Longoria) – who now has a promising career as a lawyer.
Mike is supposed to be going out with Jim each day and applying for jobs, handing out resumes, and making contacts. Instead, he is hanging out with Jim getting stoned, drunk, and committing small crimes. After Jim gets rejected by the police, he and Mike rob a drug dealer, get into a fight with some local thugs, and embark on a quest to sell a stolen gun. They also make sure to leave fake job calls on Mike’s answering machine so that Sylvia thinks he is actually trying to find work.
Along the way, the audience is treated to more and more glimpses of just how nuts Jim might actually be, and how quick he is to act out in the most violent way possible. A promising job with the Department of Homeland Security does nothing to curve Jim’s violence or his criminal ways.
The movie builds slowly (at times very slowly) towards a violent and somewhat tragic ending that is quasi telegraphed if you have seen this type of film before. For the most part, Ayer revisits much of the ground he covered in Training Day, but with criminals instead of dirty cops.
Much of the film’s redeeming grace is found in Bale’s performance. The actor once again proves that he is at the top of his game, and can pull off any kind of character in any kind of setting. His performance has all the intensity of his past blockbusters (such as The Prestige or Batman Begins) blended with some of the madness from his lesser known roles (such as American Psycho and The Machinist). At times, Bale’s job saves the film, but it also tends to make it seem more cliché.
Since Training Day broke “new” ground, there have been dozens of dirty cop/street criminal movies set on the streets of Los Angeles. This film doesn’t try to break from the pattern that Ayer established in his past films, and doesn’t try to add anything to the genre. Instead, Ayer seems to be on autopilot with Harsh Times. He is confident in the genre, and knows how to handle all aspects of his story. The movie has a gritty look to it that helps it feel like an indie movie despite its A-list Hollywood cast and director. Again, this tends to hurt the movie some since it has a very similar look and feel to Training Day and even Dark Blue.
The DVD is a little light on special features consisting of commentary from Ayer and seven deleted scenes. The commentary is informative – with Ayer providing a blend of technical talk, stories about the shooting of the film, and his thoughts on why he wanted to make the movie. The deleted scenes (which add up to about 13 minutes) give a bit more to the movie, and will help fill in some of the story for anyone who really enjoyed it.
Overall, Harsh Times wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be, but I didn’t walk away disappointed in it. Bale and Rodríguez keep you interested in what is happening on screen, and wondering just how bad things are going to turn out by the end of the movie. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the crime film genre.