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Awesome: 23.88%
Worth A Look41.79%
Just Average: 10.45%
Pretty Crappy: 1.49%
Sucks: 22.39%

5 reviews, 37 user ratings

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Harsh Times
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by David Cornelius

"Not your average homeboy picture."
4 stars

“Harsh Times” could have been little more than a typical inner city gang-banger drama. Yet it strives for much, much more. Here is a film that is brooding, angry, intense. It bursts with the darkest pessimism. It is the tale of macho rage at its most unchecked, and it dares to ask, how did its characters get here?

Christian Bale plays Jim Davis, a former Army Ranger trained to be a cold, mindless killing machine. He is now home, the war far behind him, and he’s hoping a job with the LAPD will help him bring his Mexican fiancée (Tammy Trull) to the States. His best pal Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodríguez) is struggling to find a job of his own, due to the nagging of his lawyer wife (Eva Longoria).

Jim is what you would call a bad influence - on a day intended for Mike to pass out resumés and for Jim to finalize his LAPD testing, Jim insists on getting drunk, getting stoned, getting laid, and generally getting into trouble. When Jim learns he’s been deemed ineligible for the police force, his rage lets loose, and the day becomes one long frustration-venting cruise. Mike’s on probation, hoping to go straight, yet here’s Jim, stumbling into his life again, convincing him to help him sell the stolen guns they landed.

The film is written by David Ayers, who previously penned “Training Day,” “SWAT,” and “Dark Blue” (as well as the embarrassment that is “The Fast and the Furious”); here, he makes his directorial debut as well, pumping the same macho fury into his camerawork that he has injected into his scripts for years. The easiest comparisons go to “Training Day:” two guys roaming the streets by car, one slowly but surely corrupting the other with his moral darkness, unchecked temper, and a seeming invincibility. “Harsh Times” is, if possible, even more rambling and plotless than that Denzel Washington flick, content instead with being merely a case study in the life of a man crumbling under his own ferocity.

In Jim’s case, this violence was programmed into him by the Armed Forces, who created a perfect killing machine, then tossed him aside, expecting him to be able to find some sense of normalcy in the civilian world. Wisely, Ayer does not discuss any of this up front. Instead, he asks the audience to work out the causes of Jim’s violent behavior on their own, aided only by a handful of dream-flashbacks and the clear understanding that Jim is, in more than one character’s words, “fucked up.” “Harsh Times” is the story of a military leftover, stuck in the real world with nothing to do but unleash the same destructive tendencies that made him a wartime hero.

It’s curious, then, to watch the only viable offer made to Jim come from the Department of Homeland Security, who want him to return to the same sort of work he does so well. Here, they do not care what sort of illegal behavior fills his spare time - unlike the LAPD, they’re willing to overlook such things - as long as he’s able to get the job done.

As such, Ayer’s film grows beyond the simplicities of the South Central gang genre its look and characters suggest. “Harsh Times” is smart enough to make itself a condemnation of the sort of people the Armed Forces create, men with confused morals, unable to adjust. (This is not to say all former soldiers are unable to adjust. But it does raise the question: does the government care at all about such adjustment problems?)

As the troubled, demented Jim, Bale delivers the same psycho frenzy that he pulled off in “American Psycho” and even “Batman Returns.” Here’s a guy who knows how to melt down on screen and demand we care. Rodriguez, meanwhile, elegantly handles an even more complex role, as the poor soul torn between a better life and the dangers presented by his friend.

The film’s seemingly aimless, laid-back approach to the story causes a few problems - namely, the film’s about a half hour longer than it needs to be, and the apparent lack of direction leads the viewer to drift away from time to time - but the lead performances are electric and keep up watching. This is a tale of escalating madness from which its characters are unable to escape, and while it carries all the signs of your hackneyed drugs-and-guns picture, there’s a whole lot more going on under the surface. This is the sort of intelligent, daring work the genre truly needs.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12776&reviewer=392
originally posted: 11/09/06 21:24:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/25/20 morris campbell boring take a pass on it 1 stars
4/30/19 Anne I lasted 20 minutes and some of that time I read these reviews! 1 stars
11/29/09 Reiners the best movie ever. my favorite 5 stars
10/15/09 Abhishek Chakraborty Must see once. I'm serious...starts off ordinary...OMG but what a powerful last half. 4 stars
12/14/08 mr.mike Requires patience , but for once Bale lives up to his hype: he is phenomenol. 4 stars
5/10/08 Jack Sommersby Bale is searingly brilliant in this first-rate film. 4 stars
7/17/07 Shocker Milwaukee My favorite movie of all time. 5 stars
6/28/07 Adam G Loved it.I'm Sure a lot of people can relate. 5 stars
6/18/07 Alyssa! This film will kill brain cells. It is trippy shit yo'! 1 stars
4/23/07 Robbo-UK Beautiful intelligent study of mental illness, well acted and directed. 5 stars
4/20/07 Perplankton Gibbons Anything less than 5 is unacceptable. Nasty 1223, your really dumb, read between the lines. 5 stars
4/15/07 Kevin One of my favorite movies of the year, Christian Bale needs to win an oscar 5 stars
4/02/07 AJ Muller Intense,moving flick with stellar acting.And Ursic,I'm from CA,we DO talk this way,sorry. 4 stars
3/28/07 Luke True, it's a little too long w/o much of a story but Bale is so freaking good you wont care 4 stars
3/25/07 Amanda this movie is absolutely riveting. Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez are amazing! 5 stars
3/16/07 Krishna Visceral, intense. Watch the flick, not the blab that's greg's "critique-without-a-cause". 5 stars
3/14/07 Vince Another great film the Oscar people ignored 5 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Rambling plot frustates, but Bale helps us hold on. 3 stars
1/28/07 Wiseman The plot dosent stay on track, makes u keep thinking somthing is gonna happen..nothingDoes. 1 stars
1/08/07 nasty1223 this movie made me want to yak all over the place!!! horrible 1 stars
11/22/06 Tiffany Losco Wasnt my favorite movie, but it was ok. 4 stars
11/19/06 chase absolutely hilarious, christian bale does black comedy better than anyone else out there 5 stars
11/14/06 Brandon You think its an action movie but turns out to be 2 low lives smoking pot the whole movie. 1 stars
11/13/06 pat worst fucking movie in the world 1 stars
11/12/06 Melina bale is creepy! i couldn't believe how out of control his character was! 4 stars
11/11/06 Bryan The preview was the best part of this movie. i love action movies but this SUCKED. 2 stars
11/11/06 giselle Christian Bale is amazing. 5 stars
11/09/06 tommy shaw scary to think how many Jim,s are walking along side of us as a result of WAR Great movie 4 stars
11/08/06 rob NOT a Hollywood slick-pic: brace yourselves for a gritty, intense ride 4 stars
10/22/06 Krave This is LA hardcore street action. Better than Training Day! 5 stars
8/28/06 Gerard McCarthy Outstanding Film, Bale and Rodriguez riveting. 5 stars
8/25/06 Gary the films intensity jumps at you when you least expect it 4 stars
9/23/05 hunglikeanAnt Saw this in Toronto - Blew my Mind! Oscar Worthy 5 stars
9/12/05 terry foster who's on crack? a false note from beg to end... 1 stars
9/12/05 Sean Gilligan every bit as intense as training day. bale and rodriquez are INCREDIBLY powerful. 5 stars
8/23/05 Sparky THIS MOVIE KICKS ASS! 5 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2007



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