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Harsh Times (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Harsh Times

Harsh Times


Starring Christian Bale, Freddy Rodríguez, Eva Longoria, Chaka Forman, J.K. Simmons, Tammy Trull, Michael Monks, Samantha Esteban and Tania Verafield.

Screenplay by David Ayer.

Directed by David Ayer.

Distributed by Crave Films.  120 minutes.  Rated R.

As the screenwriter of Training Day, Dark Blue, SWAT and now his directorial debut Harsh Times, David Ayer has become the definitive chronicler of the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and the thin line between the criminals and the law.

Harsh Times is not necessarily a better film than Training Day or Dark Blue (most anything was better than SWAT), but it is in its way more disturbing.  The previous films, even if they surveyed the evil and violence that can go down on the streets always did have a character or two that invested the film with a moral center.

Harsh Times is much more ambiguous — and as such harder to watch but also harder to forget.

This is particularly because of the work of Christian Bale, who hardwires this film with a shocking hair-trigger amorality and detachment that is hard to shake.  Bale plays Jim, a Gulf War veteran who has returned home and fallen into a life of drugs, petty crime and paranoia.  We don’t learn too much about his time in duty — though we do see some of his nightmares of killing on the battlefield.  We also hear from old friends and acquaintances that Jim was once a rather laid back sort.

There is nothing laid back about Jim now though.  He is a machine, constantly wired and looking for trouble.  He is completely shut off from his feelings and at the same time ruled by them.  We watch him going from place to place and either causing or reacting to trouble.  All the while he holds on to the fantasy of becoming a policeman and marrying a woman from across the Mexican border (Tammy Trull).

His best friend is Mike (Freddy Rodriguez of Six Feet Under). Mike’s upwardly mobile girlfriend (Eva Longoria) has him looking for a job, but Mike would rather hang out and party with Jim.  However, he is not as hardcore about it as Jim is, his friend keeps getting him into trouble to the point where he can’t ignore any more that he is losing track of reality.  The film tracks a period of several days when this break becomes more and more apparent to his friend, but he still holds out hope due to a long-ago bond.

Harsh Times is a fascinating look at the heart of darkness; a study of a man losing his soul and falling deeper and deeper into the abyss.  (3/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 13, 2007.

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