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  Publicity Stills of "Harsh Times"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Drama
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, Tammy Trull
RunTime: 2 hrs
Released By: Shaw
Rating: M18 Coarse Language & Violence)
Official Website:

Opening Day: 11 January 2007


From the creator of TRAINING DAY comes a taut, authentic, coming of age drama – featuring an intense, gritty performance from Christian Bale – about two best friends who, in spite of their best efforts and the women who love them, are unable to escape the streets…

Former Army Ranger JIM DAVIS (Christian Bale) hasn’t been able to get his life back on track since he came home from the Gulf War. Plagued by nightmares and unwilling to take a desk job, he burned through his savings waiting for an offer from the L.A.P.D. that never panned out. He tells himself that if he only had a job, everything would turn around – he could marry his devoted Mexican girlfriend, MARTA, and bring her back to the States and settle down…

But in the meantime, he’s just killing time with his friend MIKE (Freddy Rodriguez), who’s also unemployed. Mike’s high-powered girlfriend, SYLVIA (Eva Longoria), is sick of hearing his excuses, so Jim offers to help Mike find a job; instead they just end up cruising the streets of South Central looking for trouble. They drop in on Jim’s ex-girlfriend, and get jumped by her boyfriend and his homeboys. They get deeper and deeper into the streets, and unwittingly sew the seeds of their own destruction.

Movie Review:

Crime dramas have increasingly gravitated towards edgier, grittier stories, perhaps as a reflection of life as it is, that it's never black and white, and always full of grey. Besides, it allows actors to take on roles that aren't plain old boring goody-two-shoes cop types. Coming to mind are movies such as Narc for Jason Patric, Spartan for Val Kilmer, Training Day for Denzel Washington, and now, Harsh Times.

Simply put, this is a Christian Bale vehicle, for the acclaimed actor to showcase once more why he's one of the hottest stars of today. As Jim Luther Davis, he's one confused Gulf War veteran, back in South Central Los Angeles, trying to look for a job in law enforcement. While highly charged but effective as a soldier, his behaviour, as it unfolds, casts doubts on his suitability in upholding the law and maintaining the peace. Bale, being no stranger to dark psychotic roles having had stints in American Psycho, and perhaps even Batman with his duality, plays Jim convincingly to a T, with his ability to flip intensities seamlessly, treading the line between pure madness and self-pity at a flick of a switch.

Written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote the screenplays for crime drama Training Day, and brotherhood bonds in Fast and Furious, no doubt followed a similar formula he employed in developing a sidekick for his main character. With Training Day, you had Ethan Hawke as the straight-laced cop playing off Denzel Washington, and Paul Walker as the undercover opposite Vin Diesel.

Here however, the sidekick role is relatively weak, in having Freddy Rodriguez as Mike Alonzo, best buddy of Jim. A good for nothing loafer seeking unsuccessful employment, his character does nothing much, lacking the strong counterbalance to Bale's character and performance. Perhaps it's as much as his role as the follower, the weak willed man with henpecked tendencies, with little ambition and no mind of his own.

The soundtrack is a mirror to its mood, having plenty of rock, punk, electronic tracks punctuate the movie for most parts of the first half. For fans of Eva "Desperate Housewife" Longoria who might have spotted her in the trailer and want to check her out in this movie, well, her performance and role here is nothing to shout about, as per her debut big screen appearance in The Sentinel - totally wasted, and still casted in a purely "chick" role with the usual comments made about her rear.

It'll be a test of patience watching this movie, as almost half the time is spent in having both Jim and Mike cruise the streets in their car in intermittent periods, spewing tough dialogue, consuming drugs and booze, and exhibiting erratic behaviour, as they follow the road down self destruction. Along the way, the duo get involved in a whole myriad of subplots, you'll probably need a road map to keep track of where things are. And having these subplots tangent off and returning at a later time, it didn't help that the movie just drags on without any end in sight.

But if you're willing to accompany Jim and Mike on their wild, trippy journey through the underbelly of society, and are a Bale fan enough to witness his dalliance on both sides of the law, then this movie would be for you.

Movie Rating:

(Christian Bale's excellent performance redeems this meandering movie with seemingly no end to the grit)

Review by Stefan Shih


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