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  • First off, let me start by saying that I have never been bothered to write a review on IMDb. Although a fan of the site, I skim read reviews, often not having the patience to read the long essays that over-excited people write. However, I feel it is my obligation to express my opinion on this movie because it is one of a short list of movies that has made an impact on me emotionally.

    I honestly believe that Christian Bale's performance in this movie was truly outstanding. If Denzel Washington can be rewarded for best actor in Training Day then Bale deserves his just rewards for Harsh Times. His portrayal of Jim David, an ex-army ranger, is coated in layers of emotional complexity and psychological deterioration. His ability to transform from an honourable, courteous officer to a full blown psycho and then back to loving boyfriend and 'amigo' is truly terrifying.

    Sharing much screen time with Bale is a relatively unknown Freddy Rodriquez. He seems to feed off Bale's character and forces the audience to feel sympathy for him as a childhood friend who can't abandon his crazy best friend. A cross between Benny Blanco (Carlito's Way) and Ethan Hawke's character in Training Day, Rodriquez shows his ability in mixing comedic moments up with emotional intensity and apathy. His friendship with Bale is so unpredictable that as an audience, you find yourself laughing with them at one moment and the next on the verge of tears.

    David Ayer has created a dark, moody portrayal of South Central Los Angeles, very similar to that of Training Day. It's a bleak, bustling environment where the main characters encounter drug dealers, gang leaders, prostitutes etc. What I found interesting was the way Ayer introduced the beautiful barren Mexican landscape amongst the roughness of LA life. This was to show the personal crossroads Bale's character experiences. The choice whether to stay in Mexico and marry his girlfriend, or to satisfy his sadistic urge to kill and work for the drugs squad in Columbia.

    It's frustrating that Harsh Times will not get the box office recognition it deserves. However, through word of mouth and DVD release, I am certain that this will become a sleeper classic, in the style of Shawshank Redemption. I feel that Christian Bale's performance is as mesmerising as De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or Edward Norton's character in American History X. His raw approach to the role makes for a startling but very rewarding experience.

    Overall Verdict: A tour de force of a movie with fantastic performances, stylish direction and an after-taste which will stay with you for a very long time. Not since American History X has a movie affected me on such an emotional level. Christian Bale deserves more credit. Much more.....

    9.5/10
  • salmartin4 September 2006
    Went to see the movie last night without knowing what it was about. To say that I enjoyed the movie from start to finish would be an understatement! I thought Christian Bale was absolutely fantastic, his depiction of an ex soldier trying to get back to "normal" ie get a job, have a relationship, while slowly (or maybe not so slowly!)slipping into mayhem & madness was Oscar winning material. He was at war with himself on a downward spiral and bringing any semblance of normality with him. I know I certainly felt I was grabbed by the throat and brought along for the ride. It's not often a movie is so scary and so sad at the same time. I loved it!
  • 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 Day—playing 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.
  • I went to see Harsh Times knowing little about it aside from that Christian Bale was in it.

    It's hard to go into detail without spoiling the plot, but it's an excellent story of two friends down on their luck, one of them an ex-soldier with some serious post-traumatic stress syndrome.

    All the acting is top-notch, and knowing people very similar to the ones in the movie, I would say that it is spot-on, which is a very hard thing for any actor to nail.

    A lot of the time when you watch a movie with Brad Pitt in it, you're just watching Brad Pitt be Brad Pitt. As cool as he is, this tends to spoil the movie and any suspense of disbelief.

    I've seen a lot of Christian Bale movies, and even so, I forgot that it was Christian Bale throughout most of the entire movie. That is an incredibly impressive thing indeed.

    The movie may not get an Oscar, but it is done superbly well, and Christian Bale is quite possibly the next Anthony Hopkins.
  • I'm glad i haven't seen training day or i'd feel compelled to compare. This film feels real, and the director really makes you feel like you are actually IN the film, in the situation with the characters. You feel part of their lives and start feeling FOR them. Freddy Rodriguez plays a kinda good guy with a weak will and gets roped into anything Jim(Bale) gets him into. His relationship with Eva longoria is something people can identify with. Christian Bale is mind blowing from the moment the film begins (pun intended) he is very believable as Jim and is one crazy SOB in this film, he pulls off the dialogue, attitude and body language really well, You just couldn't tell he was a Brit, let alone welsh. his acting prowess is impeccable. Miles away from the Bruce Wayne he played recently.

    All in all, its a good film, i won't give away the story, though its nothing extraordinary but it gives us the feel of how life is in crime ridden cities where people fight for survival every single day.
  • This is a pretty good movie. It's really intense and disturbing. The pairing of Freddy Rodreiguez and Christian Bale definitely covers the wide range of emotions that the duo go through during the film. I won't be too specific, but Bale really pulls off a haunting portrayal of a guy who is really messed up, but never fails when he needs to expose what little shred of humanity that still remains. Rodreiguez plays opposite Bale and plays well off of him and vice versa. Eva Longoria makes an appearance in this film and that's always something to look forward to. I recommend this movie, but it isn't for the squeamish. It's a lot like Training Day, (also written by director David Ayer) and I'll go as far as to say that it's actually better.
  • TheAlfaMale27 August 2006
    The plot in this film is somewhat like an aircraft that spends a puzzlingly long time taxiing along the runway before it finally gets airborne. Even then, it is not until the final part that the joystick is forcefully pulled back, and with a great whoosh we are up for some very showy loop-the-loops and victory rolls. HARSH TIMES is both sophisticated and ambitious, with intriguing character development. Despite the slow start that had me, an avid fan of Christian Bale, shifting uncomfortably in my seat, it is never the less witty, ingenious, and a pleasure to watch. Christian Bale undoubtedly stole the show.
  • An intense film, that FEELS a lot like Training Day, but with more of a gritty approach, and with actors who seem actually believable... which makes sense since it's based on the real life experiences of the director/writer and people he knows.

    Rodriguez (who was at the World Premiere) and Bale give stellar performances. Rodriguez, if this film is well distributed, will get huge exposure and will likely go far. His performance was incredible, believable, and emotional. Bale continues to show that he's one of the best in Hollywood. Sure, he's playing a slightly psychotic, mentally unstable fellow, similar to a number of previous roles he's played, but he does it so well.

    Ayer has improved as a writer, and considering this is his feature film debut as a director, he did fantastically. His knowledge as a director shone through in the Q&A after the film. He also made sure to mention the Cannes labs, where he worked on the script for this film, and how it helped him improve as a writer.

    Go see it. It's intense, well written, incredibly performed, and is a thinker of a film.
  • Christian Bale is an actor who is never orthodox. His string of films have in general been breaking moulds and testing his own ability, and more often than not you leave the cinema thinking that you had seen something special.

    Having revived the Batman series and out-Lynched David Lynch in "The Machinist", he has now tackled the troubled life of a war veteran who is trying to find a job in order to be able to settle down so he can marry and bring over his wife from Mexico. Alongside him is his best friend who is also in the same situation of finding a job but this time in order to satisfy his frustrated working wife. As always nothing goes as easily to plan.

    The two lead actors end up struggling through job rejections, life, gangs, drugs and drinks, and also the struggle to move on from their carefree lifestyle when they were young. Responsibility is a difficult option for the pair of them. The problem is exacerbated by Christian Bale's character's flashbacks and hauntings to the war, which add a frightening and unstable edge to his character.

    The film overall takes us on an unpredictable journey following the two men questioning ourselves what we would do if we were in their shoes, and watching the pair of them acting and opting for what they do can be unsettling. Acting is great, direction is interesting and you will not be disappointed. If you like Crash, then in some ways this is in the same vein but not alike to the movie. I thoroughly was interested and enjoyed this movie, and if you want a thought-provoking film then this is definitely for you.
  • BrotherNumpsie18 August 2006
    10/10
    Wow!
    Saw Harsh Times today, mostly because Bale is gorge! and was blown away. Just one problem, and that is the way Freddy and Christians characters talk: "Wassup dawg/dude/homie", it's grating and annoying. There are some truly shocking, out of the blue moments, and not once is this movie clichéd or predictable. I was disappointed that there were only 20 people at the most in the cinema, especially as it's the first day. The way the ending is shot is very impressive and moving, and stayed with me for ages afterwards. There is a lot of unnecessary swearing, but I suppose that is the way Jim and Mike would speak. Also, Jim is supposed to be 26 but looks a lot older. I was so impressed and can't wait for the DVD, although I won't be surprised the second time round. I recommend Harsh Times very highly; it is emotional, violent, realistic, hilarious, thought provoking, traumatic, inspired, entertaining, gripping, original and shocking.
  • I'm stunned that there are so many high ratings of this film. It is rare for both my husband and I to rank a movie so low, but it was sheer torture watching it. The story wasn't worth the annoying aspects of the film. The forced L.A. Latino cool talk is so irritating that I had a hard time staying in my seat. I wanted to pace with my hands cupping my ears. Then the driving around and driving around drinking beer and stopping to smoke some dope. Talking about getting "f--ked up" and getting "biotches". Pulease! I've never seen Christian do a bad job so it must have been the director's fault encouraging over-acting, bad acting. Perhaps Christian read the script with the idea that this would be a challenge. I'm sure he didn't expect a fiasco. So the character was messed up in the military. That doesn't excuse him being an idiot and ruining everyone's lives, including the audience members for the minutes they waste watching this crap. His sidekick is equally stupid. They act more like messed up teenagers than grown men.
  • kaitos_1814 June 2007
    Christian Bale has been one of my favorite actors since American Psycho, with his battery of fine films including hits like Equilibrium, Batman Begins, and The Prestige. However, no amount or great future movies could ever atone for having to watch him (poorly) attempting to appear "ghetto" in this mess of a terrible action flick. Did he read the script before he agreed to play the down on his luck hero of Harsh Times? Bale cannot act well in this role, and listening to him moan on about wanting to get "****ed up!" made me want to throw up. Harsh Times? You don't understand the meaning of the words until you sit through this travesty. I can't even allow myself to score this trash any higher than a 1/10, and I think that's being generous.
  • Alright so I've seen Training Day, which was a fantastic movie. I saw the previews for this, and was intrigued to go to the theater and check it out. I didn't, and boy am I glad. This movie had so much potential to be a great film, and turned out to be a total joke.

    Lets start off with the acting. I enjoyed Bale in American Psycho, but his acting in this was so unconvincing. The dialog between Bale and Rodriguez was so phony, so forced to throw in extra 'street' slang. Basically the impression I got from these two speaking was amateur. Bale is talking like he is some straight up 'G'. I suppose I cannot blame the actors completely for a weakly written script.

    The plot was a joke! It went nowhere. So Bale was a soldier and then is in Mexico with this girl he wants to marry in the US. Then he hooks up with Rodriguez who is an 'alcoholic bum' who needs to find a job, and they cruise around drinking and getting high. Sorry we saw the whole bad ass drinking/smoking/bullying while cruising South LA in Training Day before. Then the movie does a 360 and just loses me, goes nowhere.

    What a waste of two hours. How did someone approve this script? Horrible. If u really want to watch it for yourself go ahead. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    PS: Training Day 9/10 - Harsh Times 1/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Let me preface this by saying that I am definitely a fan of Bale's previous work- particularly American Psycho, and I thought training day was awesome. I also live in LA if that means anything. I'm aware of the fact that trailers are often deceiving, but judging from this movie's trailer- I truly believed that the film showed promise. Knowing this, you may be asking yourself, "how is it possible for a motion picture to contain so much suck in only 2 hrs?" I honestly don't know how it's possible but, they were able to do it. There's not just one thing that makes this movie unbearable- so let me highlight a few of elements that did so. First of all this movie should have been titled something slightly more relevant, e.g.: "stupid people looking for a job in LA", or maybe the less wordy, "jobhunt". Was I the only one who thought from the trailer that Bale was actually going to become a cop? Secondly, the most common misconception in criticism I'm hearing is that the acting is bad, but the fact of the matter is that all of the actors did a bar-none job of portraying stupid, unlikable people. I don't consider myself a saint, but I could not relate to, or even feel sympathy for any of the characters. These are the kind of people who make the world a sh*tty place to live in: corrupt, lazy, lying, drinking-while-driving, gun-toting, dope-smoking, misogynistic, anti-intellectual, selfish, ignorant pieces of sh*t. These people corrupt the military, the police force, school-systems, essentially everything they touch, and yet I felt that these characters were being glorified throughout the whole film, except for towards the end when Bale goes nuts; however it is at this point that I felt Rodriguez stepped-up to being the hero. The thing that bugs me the most is that Rodriguez's character was able to run home after literally murdering his best-friend in the face, make-out with Eva Longoria, and pretend like everything was going to end up fine. I'm sorry- while I don't doubt the rejuvenating qualities of swapping spit with Ms. Longoria, I think its effect was slightly exaggerated, because I don't really think that it could eliminate the horror of killing your best friend. Most disturbing to me is the fact that people not only enjoyed this movie, they loved it! People are already screaming Oscar-worthy, when the truth of the matter is that at best this movie should have gone straight to DVD, and I'm being generous. In all honesty, this movie should never have seen the light of day. I highly regret not walking out of the film, as did two of my friends who went to the movie with me. Of higher priority than 8 dollars, is time, and if you value either I urge you to avoid this movie at all costs.
  • Harsh Times is a Great entertaining film. I had not heard about this until I picked it up at the video store. It definitely didn't get the press it deserved at initial screening - I imagine this was due to the violence. Definitely not for kids, but Christian Bale and Freddie Rodriguez are great - surprisingly humorous at times, but mostly just intense and very real. Totally engrossing with suspension of disbelief which is saying something as I am a jaded movie watcher. Awesome acting - subtle with a big emotional range. Bale's schizo episodes remind me of Edward Norton in Primal Fear. Rodriguez is convincing with his acting of conflicting loyalties. Interesting commentary on friendship and being a soldier returning from the horrors of battle. A deep film that also speaks to gender roles - what it means to be "a man" and loyalties to friends or significant others. Courage, ambition, base animal instinct, hope, will, love and something about human beings short circuiting when confronted by the viscous inhumanity in war despite all efforts to hold it together. Eva Langoria was excellent in her supporting role.
  • djeminences14 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Bale's performance in Harsh time is phenomenal this besides the machinist and American psycho have to be some of my favourite performances by him.

    The Chemistry between Freddie and Bale is great it seems like they've been "homies" for years very tight friendship so you know how tight they are immediately and it makes you care for them.

    Bale's character is a former soldier and he has major issues just imagine a soldier coming back for Vietnam with flash backs and such ...pretty much they are never the same mentally again...that is bales character right there it's much more deeper maybe someone will explain it better then me Freddie's character is the guy who is a ride or die friend he'll stick with you to end but he's also a follower and get's influenced very easily by bale's character in the movie...I view it as Bale is like an older brother to him Eva Longoria is freddie's girlfriend and she loves him to death because pirior Freddie stuck by here and help her out during university or college i can't remember..All she wants now is for Freddie to get a Job but Bale's influence always divides freddies focus on handing out his applications..She doesn't like Bale's character basically thinks he's going to get freddie killed

    just imagine being with your friend throwing around a lot of cuss words but when your talking to someone at a business place you talk proper and not urban slang.. I'd say it's a violent movie i mean there is some brutal scenes that will feed your violence fix....

    all in all this movie is pretty damn realistic
  • I'm so offended by the awfulness of this movie that I don't even want to expend the energy necessary to tell you in detail how bad it was, such is my absolute hatred for this movie - BUT, it is my duty as a movie lover and as a human being to do my best to prevent you from having to watch this complete dog turd. You will thank me and be pleased that you are not now doing what I am doing: trying to think of a way to strike myself across the head in such a way that I will forget I ever saw this thing. Though, I may not really wish to do that on the off chance I succeed, happen upon the title once again and decide it might be interesting.

    It was not interesting. It was terrible. I feel like weeping. Better still, I feel like kicking David Ayer in the groin.

    In short, the flick is about some losers being losers in the most non-interesting and non-compelling way possible, and in the end you wish more people had died, especially Ayer. Suckfest 2006. Worst movie I've seen in years, and I've seen a LOT of movies.

    Christian Bale plays the part of a white guy who wishes he was a street-savvy Mexican gangsta. Apparently, he's ex military, and apparently, this is supposed to have had some impact on his present personality.

    He is as convincing in this role (both as an ex-mil and as a Mexican) as Vanilla Ice is convincing as a hardcore rapper. Random extras acted better in this movie. I believe there was a Coke machine in the distance that seemed more Mexican/street than Christian Bale. I have begun to wonder if Bale can act without Christopher Nolan, or if it was simply the fault of Ayer, who in all honesty really should be arrested for terroristic activities. I can't think of another description for this flick than 'nuclear bomb'.

    Don't see it, or if you do, don't say I didn't warn you.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Well, I've just seen Harsh Times with a friend and we were both so disappointed. Christian Bale is a brilliant actor but what an earth was he thinking playing this role. Admittedly his acting is excellent as is Freddy Rodriguez, but there is no story. Nothing happens until about an hour and 15 minutes in to the film. I've read a few reviews that compare this film to Training Day which is a complete insult as Training Day is a brilliant (Oscar Winning) film with amazing performances and most importantly...a good plot line. It's such a shame that the 3 lead actors (Eva Longoria also stars) chose to star in such a dull film. Another opinion that I read is that it is edge of your seat thrilling, but there is nothing in it that makes it tense or interesting. When a film actually makes you want people to start killing each other so as to have something of interest to watch, it shows how bad it really is! The highlight of the film is a very funny line of "I see dumb people"!! Very amusing...
  • After I had watched Harsh Times and found it to be one of the worst films I'd seen in ages, I thumbed back through my collection of film mags - that normally have a decent hold on what's decent and what's not - expecting it to be slated in the review. I couldn't believe what I was reading '...is Bale the new Deniro?' '...Bales performance akin to Deniro in Taxi Driver'. Erm what?...What?

    I rented this film on the grounds that Christian Bale normally makes good role choices. As I watched it I became increasingly embarrassed for him as he spilled the stinking homie dialogue from his mouth. "yeah daaawg" "yo homes"...I wanted everybody in this film to either shut up or die. The dialogue throughout is so bad it made me want to run full belt into a bus.

    I was also surprised that so many people rated it highly on this site "Christian Bale's performance is as mesmerising as De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver" some mug wrote. 7.1 is a high mark for a film that almost made my dog go bald. I know it's about different opinions and tastes but come on people...
  • ivanterry10131 December 2006
    10/10
    See it!
    Best movie out since City of God, Old Boy and better than Memento. Far surpasses Training Day - the other LA crime film from Ayer - for realism.

    I saw the reviews on www.rottentomatoes.com and have come to the conclusion that most critics are idiots. When they say it doesn't have a plot I'm assuming they mean doesn't have a beginning middle and end whereby someone falls in love, the bad guy is killed and everyone lives happily ever after. The consensus that it has a bleak plot when Million Dollar Baby's consensus was that "it's a knockout" is just astounding.

    Many of the reviewers criticizing the portrayal of LA are from other cities. They also seem to overdo their use of MS Word thesaurus. I'm actually angry at what I've read there and to me it's no surprise now that the likes of Titanic and Chicago win Oscars in America.

    The fact that these same critics gave Casino Royale (an OK action film with ridiculous dialog, coincidences and the strangest game of poker I have seen - a bad copy of a Jason Bourne movie) a 9.5 and complain that this film unrealistic is ignorant. Critics are paid to point out the flaws in movies which Bond films have in abundance but get away with it because they're "just" Bond films. To compare it to Taxi Driver or Training day is insulting. To give it a bad review is a step backwards in film art.

    Reading between the lines I am led to believe that the modern day critic is pretentious and out of touch with reality. They don't know how the average to below average earning person thinks. Some seem to be driven by the desire to maintain friendships with certain Hollywood personalities. Does anyone know a critic that agrees with this and thinks like almost everyone I know.

    Anyone know when the DVD goes on sale by the way?
  • Harsh Times tell the story of Jim (Bale) an ex marine who fought in the gulf war and is having a hard time finding a job as a cop and likes to hang around with his buddies, drink and drive, and do drugs… stupid right. Apparently he is planning to get married to this sweet Mexican girl but he is out having fun and getting in to trouble like a 13 year old, I just don't get the story.

    Harsh Times… yes it was quite harsh to see this movie. First of all, I can't believe that people compare this movie with Training Day and Taxi Driver. Second, Bale's ghetto wannabe acting was ridiculous and not-believable, not to mention his Spanish was terrible. Third, this movie had no story and no plot.

    Bottom line this is a really bad movie that I don't think Bale read the script before being part of it. Its plain terrible, I am going to discard this movie from my mind and only think of Bale's good movies like Empire of the Sun, Equilibrium, The Machinist, Batman Begins, and The Prestige etc.

    Harsh Times never happened.
  • Well what can you say about Christian Bale? Has yet to make a duff movie.His performances just get better and better not more so than this film.A very powerful and believable performance of a discharged psychotic soldier let onto the streets to find work within the police force.It is interesting to note that you become aware that prior to going into the army he was a "normal" person,yet after being discharged his persona takes on a very different kind of unsettling behaviour.From a personal point of view I can sympathise with the character as I know of many of my friends who entered the army as sane,well adjusted human beings,yet upon release or leave I found that they had become very de-sensitised to what is normal behaviour and ultimately still think that civvy street is still a battleground where only the strong survive.Christian has brought this over on screen to fantastic effect-bravo! A very unsettling film which cranks up the pressure scene by scene and leaves the viewer re-evaluating life and relationships.A must see film to unleash your emotions which is a rare thing these days.
  • In Afghanistan, US soldier Jim David was on the top of his game and in great demand for his ability to kill. Honourably discharged he is back in Los Angeles and unemployed. He wants to work for the police but usually spends his days with friend Mike getting wasted and into petty crime. Mike is also looking for work to keep his lawyer girlfriend happy. As the two of them drive round the city drinking, they get into minor scuffles and confrontations, with Mike dragged along as Jim slips between gaps in his personality.

    The film opens really well and did an excellent job of establishing what I assumed the whole foundation of the film would be. Using night vision really well, we find ourselves in Afghanistan and join one soldier as he moves in close to a group of armed men. Base-heavy music kicks in just as he does, efficiently killing about 10 of them without flinching. It is slick, deadly and very cool and the audience feels the excitement and rush. When we step to the back of Jim's car in Mexico the effect is jarring and it did make me think how anyone can leave that type of life and return to everyday, 9-5 society. And this is really what the film is sort of about as we see Jim losing track of what is permissible in normal life versus what he does for a job. In this area the film was not as good as I had hoped because it doesn't bring this confusion out that well on the screen. The writing suggests it but when it comes to showing it, it resorts to quick cuts and flashes of colour to show turmoil in Jim's mind.

    It is a rather lazy effect and Bale deserves better as his performance is impressive in balancing the three sides of this man. It took me quite some time to get over the "wigger" talk from him but, although I'm not familiar with this culture, I did accept that people do talk like this and gradually it became more convincing. His "Jim's" are very different – in Mexico he is chilled, in interviews he is disciplined and on the street he is a lower – but Bale links them, finding common ground and moving between them well. It is a shame that Ayer could not help him more by giving him subtler material and direction but Bale shines regardless. Where Ayer does work well is in the relationship between Jim and Mike. He has written convincing men; losers no doubt but it is interesting to see the posing and peer-pressure playing its part in every scene they share. This is brought out well by Rodriguez who was always good in Six Feet Under and is just as good here. He balances his loyalty to Jim well with his character's own weak spine and only gradually brings out his character's dawning. The film is at its strongest when the two are together and in the same way that Ayer fails to really look at Jim's psychological state, he paints a disturbingly real picture of the modern male relationship.

    This keeps the film engaging and interesting but I wanted it to do the deeper work much better as it is a topical subject with so many people in Iraq etc who will someday (hopefully) find themselves back home in a country that doesn't really appreciate their action and doesn't really want to know what they did out there. As it is though, the characters and the tough, grim story drive the film forward well enough but without real insight into Jim, it does occasionally feel a bit superficial. Several UK critics embraced this film as if it was the Messiah but some seemed to be motivated by spite because it came out the same day as Snakes on a Plane (a film several critics were narked at for not being allowed to see). Instead of being brilliant the film is just good – it does some things well but not all things.

    Ayer's direction is visually very assured and he uses the close confines of the car well while also giving the streets a rough feel, Mexico an idyllic feel and the interviews an efficient atmosphere that all contrast nicely. As writer I did want a much more subtle touch and depth in terms of Jim's mental struggle but, although this is basic, he has done great with the relationships. Bale and Rodriguez were initially hard to swallow with their very heavy dialect and accents but once in their world you get past this and realise what brilliant work they are doing. With the film very much about them, the support cast don't have much to do but still have a good presence. Simmons is always a welcome presence and after being just a sexy wiggle at the start, Longoria does good work with her small role.

    A tough and unhappy film that lacks the depth and insight it needed to be truly impacting, this is still a dark and engaging affair that has a strong heart in its lead two characters' relationship and the two great actors that deliver it. Sadly not as sharp as it should have been but an engaging ride nonetheless.
  • HARSH TIMES is an engaging little character study of what it means for an ex-soldier to live with post-traumatic stress, all wrapped up in a jazzy thriller package that recalls the 'edgy' likes of TRAINING DAY and NARC. Indeed, this is a film masquerading to be something it's not, and I'll be the first to admit I didn't appreciate the 'look' of it very much: the supposedly realistic, gritty, on-the-street vibe has been done to death both in the movies and on TV and it's something I'm frankly tired of. Drugs, casual violence, profanity; it's all here and proving there's nothing new under the sun.

    The good thing about this movie is the quality of the cast, as headlined by Bale, Rodriguez, and Longoria. They're excellent. Bale once again delivers the goods as a messed-up soldier haunted by his violent past, and he gets to do some great emotional meltdown scenes. A young, fresh Rodriguez is the perfect foil, while Longoria adds a bit of class to the proceedings. I found the film's storyline to be somewhat meandering, and some scenes feel extraneous to the central plotting. But it all comes together in the last half-hour which proves to be gritty, edge-of-your-seat stuff; it really is impossible to predict what kind of catastrophe is going to happen. The emotional coda packs a real punch thanks to Bale's heartfelt turn, making this film better than it has any right to be.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a fan of both Christian Bale and Training Day (also written and directed by David Ayers), I picked up this DVD on a whim, without knowing anything about it. Although the Training Day comparisons are inevitable, HT is an entertaining and thought-provoking ride, alternately frustrating, brutal, and surprisingly moving.

    Harsh Times follows a few days in the lives of two men, Jim (played by Bale) and his best friend, Mike, played by Fred Rodriguez. Jim is a white guy who grew up in LA's (Latino) "hood" and has now returned after a six-year stint in the US Army, and Mike is his life-long "homie." Both are directionless, and spend their days looking for work and getting wasted. Like Training Day, the story mostly revolves around two guys driving around in a car, and LA is as much a character in the story as Jim or Mike. Ayers himself, on the commentary, describes HT as "a love letter to LA," which of course makes us question the relationship.

    Bale's acting is seamless, as the story examines the roles that men play: Jim's deference and attention to detail as "super-recruit" for a job with a federal security company, his cruel and almost-robotic violent outbursts, his swagger and machismo with his friends, and his love and tenderness for his girlfriend in her Mexican home, the only place he's at peace. Rodriguez provides an excellent foil as the best friend who's been everything to Jim, a home, a family, an ally, and a rival, with both men alternately encouraging and questioning each other's actions. The main difference is that Mike, while immature (which is destructive to his relationship with Sylvia, a former homegirl-turned-lawyer who's outgrown Mike), is not a bad man. His relationship with Sylvia, played by Eva Longoria, is what raises him to a place he might not have gotten to on his own. Just a side note, the post-feminist academic in me wonders why Sylvia sticks around ("A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," stated by uberfeminist Gloria Steinem, also Bale's stepmother). Many of the women in the film are portrayed as these virtuous, forward-thinking academic types, who seem to choose to stick with shady gang-bangers for no reason other than they've been together a long time. Don't they meet any nice boys at school? I'll have to trust that to Ayers' writing logic, since it's never answered in the film. Their relationship also provides the standard action-movie formula that it's the love of a good woman that's the honour and glory of a man. *yawn* While I was a bit disgruntled with the lack of depth the female roles had, I was pleased with the casting choices of sexy, curvy Latina women--not a stick figure, a facelift, or a pair of implants in sight. You almost forget it's LA!

    Jim, by contrast, has a dark side that was released in the Army, which he's subsequently unable to fully control. Bale draws on his own darkness, played so well in both The Prestige and American Psycho. As events unfold, Jim's choices lead to a series of exponentially more violent and troubling actions, and ultimately a tragic but somehow unsurprising conclusion.

    In the commentary, Ayers notes that even in film, actions have consequences. And the actions and consequences in the film have an unnerving way of making the viewer wonder what they'd do differently, or what really makes us better than them. From the start, you feel that these guys are doomed, and you're helpless to do anything but watch the events play out. Although Bale's performance and Ayers' writing create both sympathy and irritation with the characters, Harsh Times is neither smug nor heavy-handed, as it might be if handled differently. While violence as a social problem can be easily written off as an economic and racial divide, this changes when viewed in the context of the lives of real people, which the characters in Harsh Times nearly are. The movie is a brutal but cautiously loving portrayal of a man gone wrong, and ultimately, it's his ordinariness that makes it compellingly, uncomfortably real. Harsh, indeed.
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