Harsh Times is an intense film. Keeping you on the edge of finding out how crazy events can become seems to be a staple in the writing of David Ayer. He penned the script for the gritty cop drama Training Day and saw its star, Denzel Washington, win an Oscar for his portrayal of the conflicted beast at its core. With his new film, and directorial debut, Ayer has crafted another street drama about people who themselves don't know whether they are the good guys, the bad guys, or both. Don't be surprised if his work soon creates a second starring Academy Award, as Christian Bale is a powerhouse. The raw acting talents of this Brit are unfathomable and thankfully his rejuvenation of Batman has finally allowed those chops to be shown on screen in challenging roles for the masses.
Crossing between being the soldier/sir, yes sir type of man with the gangbanger of his past could be a difficult thing to believe for a viewer. Bale deftly changes personas as if he was flipping a switch. His ability to go from crazed lunatic to apologetic, tear-filled and beaten man is amazing to watch. Having a great up-and-coming actor to play off of is a plus as Freddy Rodriguez shines in much the same way Ethan Hawke did in Training Dayplaying the straight man whose life is finally on the up and up before his love for a friend drags him back down. The rapport between them is believable and effective in showing us what could be. One of their friends, played nicely by Chaka Forman, gets it right when he says how Bale's Jim used to be so mellow. His fits of rage and confusion come upon him with no warning, showing us what war did to him. Being in the trenches created a man without a moral code, one who needs to not think, but just do. If one's capacity to kill was always there, he/she could probably live their lives being able to turn it off when needed. However, if you were not wired that way to begin with, the stark contrast could fry their mind into not knowing what it should do. Harsh Times shows us that fall into delusion and self-loathing to the point where thinking doesn't factor in at all, action becomes reflex and reflex becomes life. Unfortunately society is not of the shoot first variety like that of a warzone.
Ayer has done himself well with this directorial effort. He gets great performances throughout and in multiple languages. Even Eva Longoria was adequate and not a blemish on the film as I initially felt she might be. Ayer shows us all facets of his characters helping to enhance the story. We are privy to the past history of all involved and are allowed to understand each person's motives. Seeing the paradise that Bale has in Mexico adds immensely to the conflict going on inside of him as well. The performance by Tammy Trull is paramount to this fact and her undivided love for her broken man is beautifully expressed. This relationship makes his actions that much more powerfully unfathomable. We have monsters among us in this world and while they can be utilized as a necessity for the survival of our culture, hopefully when their jobs are done they can be helped to assimilate back into society without their ambivalence being able to hurt the ones they love.
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