..

HARSH TIMES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, Terry Crews, Noel Gugliemi
Director: David Ayer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2007

ďIím a soldier of the apocalypse.Ē

Film ***

He just strapped on the Bat suit and saved Gotham City, as well as a franchise, in Batman Begins and is gearing up to return to the role in next yearís The Dark Knight, but Christian Bale unleashes and even darker side in the gritty and intense thriller Harsh Times. The Welsh-born Bale is no stranger to playing American psychos (sorry, couldnít resist), but here he delves into an over the top level of insanity that, at times, make even Travis Bickle seem like more of a saint.

The film, which marks the directing debut of screenwriter David Ayer (Training Day, Dark Blue), could very much be viewed as a mix of Taxi Driver and Training Day. I must admit that I felt kind of misled by the trailer, which hints the film as a thriller where a traumatized ex-soldier becomes a Fed and applies his own brand of justice on the streets. Thatís not exactly what Harsh Times is about, but if the trailer delivered on any promise, it was that of a marvelous and scary performance from Bale.

Bale plays Jim Davis (not the creator of Garfield), a Gulf War veteran who, while serving in the war, specialized in taking the most extreme of orders. He never hesitated to apply as much killing as necessary. Now discharged and living in L.A., Jim is a disillusioned hothead who gets by on a daily basis through one thing; chaos.

Though he is frequently haunted by his violent ways in the army, Jim is also looking to work in an environment that will allow possibly the same tactics. Itís the only kind of job he cares about having. Until then, heíll enjoy nothing more than to cruise the mean streets of L.A. with his longtime friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), an ex convict looking to go straight.

At the core of Harsh Times is an unsettling character portrait who, although psychologically damaged by the war, is nothing but a pure bad influence on everyone around him. He is never trusted by his Mikeís girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria), who wants Mike to find a job and fast. Jim tells her heíll take him job-hunting, but instead the two prowl the city streets, get high with old friends and waste the time away.

And though he is initially rejected by the police force, Jim does attract the attention of the FBI when he applies. In a nice little twist, itís his failing of a drug test that gets him a job offer, to serve on a covert squad in Colombia, where deception is part of the job performance. Itís the only opportunity Jim has, but will his taste for insanity threaten his chances of seeing any such opportunity?

This is not an easy film to enjoy, and Baleís character is hardly likable. But as far as character studies go, Harsh Times is a scorcher. It doesnít hesitate to place a purely despicable lead character in front of us and put him through a slow and steady downfall. And even though there are a couple of scenes that tend to drag on a bit, it has a most effective finale and Baleís manic performance blazes the screen thoroughly.

And the film also gives co-star Freddy Rodriguez a chance to shine as well. Rodriguez, a noted character actor whoís been in many films (from Dead Presidents to Bobby) is equally intense as the all-too-loyal friend to a guy he shouldnít always be loyal to. Thereís some dynamite acting between him and Bale, and itís so intense and authentic itís almost tough to watch the two engage in a raging exchange of words.

Harsh Times is such an appropriately titled, because its characters are experiencing that indeed. With a film like this on his expanding film resume, Christian Bale is very much establishing himself as one of the most versatile actors of our time. His performance here will stay with you long after the film is over.

Video ***1/2

This film carries a gritty and intense look that matches the feel of the film at a hundred percent. The anamorphic widescreen presentation on this Weinstein Company release enhances this raw look to make quite an effective visual presentation. Ayer applies many visual tricks here and there, along with an occasional desaturated look. Though theyíre some spots of grain in a scene or two, the overall picture quality is sharp and clear.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix really kicks into gear right from the opening shootout scene in the Middle East. Throughout the presentation, there is so much going on for the sound mix to work with. The hip-hop infused soundtrack is one of the loudest Iíve heard on any recent presentation, and the occasional bits of violence (especially a sequence during the climax shot in ultra slow motion) blast through the speakers flawlessly. Dialogue delivery is outstandingly clear as well.

Features **

Featured on the disc is a most informative commentary track with writer/director David Ayer, Deleted Scenes (7 to be exact) a Theatrical Trailer and several TV Spots.

Summary:

Harsh Times is an in-your-face character study of a disturbed and disillusioned character, brought to life by an electrifying and scary performance from Christian Bale. If youíre looking for a story about morals, look elsewhere, but if you can stand the heat that this film has to offer, then this is one film to see indeed!

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com