Just before Batman Begins, Christian Bale produced and starred in Harsh Times, an excerpt from the end of a life of a soldier whose experience as in the occupation of Iraq has overthrown his initial Los Angelos thug lifestyle and sends him into the throes of a bloody American persona. With Freddy Rodriguez partnered, the two friends entwine in a chaotic week of on-the-fence opportunities that spiral tragically out of control, starting with simple chill-out sessions involving beers, cigarettes and pot and ending in shootouts and bloodbaths.
Directed by David Ayer, writer of Training Day, there’s a distinct overlapping of ideas from one movie to the next. Both are set in Los Angelos and both show a glimpse of the low-level criminal underground that plagues the neighborhoods of southern California. This is achieved by showing the path of the characters, who are criminals, moving from house to house in search of drugs or money or people throughout the movie. The difference in Harsh Times, however, is that the characters are not cops, although Christian Bale does play a U.S. soldier whom the Homeland Security is trying to recruit (does that count?).
The highlight of this film is tied between character development and direction. The pacing allows for the characters to show their true nature and background quite thoroughly and the direction definitely forces the actors to be fully engulfed in their roles. The script could be stale if the first hour wasn’t focused on Jim and Mike’s friendship with, dare I say, touching scenes of bromance and homey-code companionship.
The real sense of awe with the film is the feeling of uneasiness while the main characters put themselves in vulnerable situations. Anyone who’s ever taken risks in pursuit of an illegal source of happiness (i.e. anyone who’s ever gone on a ride to pick up drugs) could relate to being in the car with a complete stranger and cruising around a bad part of town. David Ayer fully captures this in a way that Training Day really only touched upon — in Training Day, the risk was being taken with someone who was already well known, at least by the police force. In Harsh Times, the characters make very poor decisions in the name of making a quick buck and their fate inevitably turns sour. It’s actually almost hard to watch.
Not entirely comprised of original material, Harsh Times does have a quality of uniqueness that surpasses many films of its genre. At the same time, it’s a story that could be set in any period from the last 40 years — replace an Iraq vet with a Vietnam vet in the 60s or 70s doing heroin on top of the booze and pot and you’ve got the same movie. The original quality lies in the modernized sense of the American dream and capitalist attitude, where the peace-loving atmosphere from the Vietnam era is long gone and instead Iraq vets are coming back home to attempt to make something of their bank accounts instead of sit around all day shooting dope and this is a much more common social pressure of contemporary America than anti-war activism.
Overall, it’s an entertaining flick. Not the best of anybody’s work, but great for everyone’s resume and a no-brainer to kick back with some beers on a Tuesday night to.