Harsh Times (2005) – Review

4 Stars

David Ayer rose to acclaim as the screenwriter for Training Day and his work on other similarly themed scripts. He makes his directorial debut with the harrowing Harsh Times, a suitable title which could also be used to describe the viewing experience. Not since Martin Scorsese presented us the war scarred Travis Brickel in 1976s Taxi Driver, have we seen a main character so deplorable yet fascinating as in Jim (Christian Bale). This is a virtuoso performance that ranks higher than Bale’s Oscar work in The Fighter or his startling physical transformation for The Machinist.

Jim is a troubled veteran honorably discharged, now roaming the streets of LA. His days are spent involving himself in petty crimes as he awaits entry into some branch of domestic law enforcement. The LAPD has already rejected him due to a failed psych test and the FBI is interested but a dirty piss test and inconsistencies during a polygraph are troubling. Some shadow branch recruiter spots Jim’s military file and offers him work in Columbia taking out cartel heads, the gig starts the following week.

In the days leading up to his deployment, Jim engages in increasingly erratic and violent behavior. Mixed up in Jim’s web of rage and volatility is Mike, a childhood friend with a beautiful wife that senses Jim is only going to make trouble. Ayer’s script does an excellent job bringing to life these three fully realized characters. Bale is the magnetic force, but Freddy Rodriguez is the solid back to the story and Eva Longoria has never been better.

Harsh Times plays out slowly at times, with side rants into sequences that could themselves be a separate film. Much of the screen-time is devoted to Jim and Mike driving around LA, much like Training Day. As the story unfolds and Jim becomes increasingly delusional, there is an unmistakable sense of dread that something awful is going to take place. When it finally does, it is deeply affecting and will shake you long after the film is over.

Director: David Ayer
Stars: Freddy Rodríguez, Christian Bale, Eva Longoria

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