HARSH TIMES (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language and Drug Use

Harsh Times poster

Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: David Ayer

Starring: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, Tammy Trull, Terry Crews, J.K. Simmons

This is a tough one to review. HARSH TIMES is such a mixed bag. Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez deliver amazing performances, but everyone else is one-dimensional. The final 40 minutes are astounding, but the time leading up to it (especially one point in the middle of the film) drags or winds up serving absolutely little to no purpose at all. This was David Ayer’s directorial debut (though he had written screenplays for a few films before, including TRAINING DAY) and he’s got some talent (e.g. END OF WATCH), but it’s clear that this was a beginning effort overall.

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The storyline takes place in about a week’s time in the life of two best friends. Jim (Christian Bale) is an honorably discharged Army Ranger and Mike is a former crook trying to find his footing by securing a new job. The first hour basically follows the two of them through the dark parts of Los Angeles and Jim as he goes through the path to become a Fed (despite his mentally unhinged background). The next 15 minutes are tedious beyond belief as a trip to Mexico is made, but the final 40 take place on a single night as Jim’s PTSD sends Mike and himself into a downward spiral.

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In my vague summary of the plot, I split the film into three distinct different parts and that’s how HARSH TIMES plays out (with other details that I won’t spoil in this review). The first part is good enough, but the second part really takes the film down a notch. I was engaged in the proceedings until the trip to Mexico came into play and then it was just downright dull for that portion of the film. The last third is awesome and winds up being a fantastic conclusion to an overall so-so movie.

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Christian Bale is an actor known for giving every performance his all. The role of Jim is unlike any others I’ve seen him play. He’s a scumbag and mentally deranged, but it’s also not entirely his fault. Bale gets the viewer into a position where they are scared of him and also sympathize that he’s going through some HARSH TIMES (see what I did there?). Freddy Rodriguez is an actor who I’m unfamiliar with. The only performance of his that sticks out in my mind (besides this one, of course) is from the PLANET TERROR part of GRINDHOUSE. Rodriguez sold me on this likable guy trying to get his act together, but also put in the tough position of looking after his mentally unstable friend.

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Every other actor pretty much blends into the background as far as their importance goes. J.K. Simmons and Terry Crews both show up for a few scenes, but those are the only real other supporting characters, save for the loves of both Jim and Mike (who merely serve as means to an end). HARSH TIMES isn’t the kind of movie that really requires good acting across the board, because the two main performances are incredible, but it also helps if there’s some more amazing talent on display in any film.

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The look of the movie is gritty and occasionally stylized (with some unnecessarily quick editing). This isn’t a happy movie in the slightest. For example, a whole lot of gangsters, prostitutes, and killers populate the city of Los Angeles (not sure how entirely accurate this is, but I won’t be strolling down there in the dead of night anytime soon). Clearly, HARSH TIMES delivers on being a dark and brooding experience. It really rewards the viewer for sticking out the dull patches in a superior ending, but the trip to that point may not be worth it for a lot of people (I don’t blame them either).

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It doesn’t take a genius to have an idea of where HARSH TIMES will conclude, but I doubt anyone will completely call just how heartbreaking and impactful the ending is. Think if AMERICAN HISTORY X had a kid with TAXI DRIVER and then went on to marry TRAINING DAY. Then you’ve got an idea of the tone this film sets and the kind of story it tells. If you’re a fan of Christian Bale, then I recommend checking this movie out for his performance alone, but just be aware that there are some problems that make it an okay film, rather than anything particularly special. HARSH TIMES makes for a HARSH viewing experience in a few ways, some of them unintentional.

Grade: C+

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