Retro Review: Harsh Times

It has taken Christian Bale a long time to reach the forefront of Hollywood success.

I actually remember the strong British actor from some his earlier films like Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” from 1987, the Disney musical “Newsies” from 1992 and the very underrated film “Swing Kids” from 1993. It really is a shame how many years it took for Bale to emerge.

His eventual rise to mainstream acclaim came with 2000’s “American Psycho” that not only showcased the man’s rise as an actor but also showed audiences that this diamond in the rough had oodles of charisma. “Psycho” didn’t solidify Bale as an acting force on film because it wasn’t until last year’s “Batman Begins” that he became a household name.

Bale actually made “Harsh Times” just before “Batman Begins” and after you witness the film you will remember the incredible range that this actor has.

Bale plays Jim Davis, an ex-Army Ranger who is desperate to find a new job with some law enforcement agency before the rough world of South Central Los Angeles once again takes over his life. His best friend Mike Alonso (Freddy Rodriguez) also is desperate to find a job so he can keep in the good graces of his aspiring girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria).

Ever since Davis returned from his tour of duty he has struggled to keep his mind focused but lately he’s been slipping. When a job with LAPD evaporates, Davis panics and his life begins to spiral out of control. Mike tries to help his friend stay focused and even with a job on the horizon with Homeland Security, Davis may be beyond saving.

“Harsh Times” was written and directed by successful screenwriter David Ayer who wrote screenplays for “Training Day”, “Fast and the Furious”, “U-571” and the underrated “Dark Blue”. Ayer’s casting of Bale as this loose cannon was perfect in every way. When you think about a British actor like Christian Bale doing a film about South Central you may get confused.

But what you have to remember is the man’s range. Bale’s performance in this film is unbelievable, mesmerizing and electric. He chews up scenery like a lawn mower. If you remember what Denzel Washington brought to “Training Day” then you will know exactly what Bale brings to this film.

For 80% of the film you really think Bale is just some unstable psychopathic punk and it’s really hard to feel for him. But when the actor is able to show us a glimmer of humanity you almost forget what just happened. There aren’t a lot of actors out there that can accomplish that. Take Tim Robbins in “Catch a Fire” as an example.

I am not sure if a lot of people will get this reference but “Harsh Times” is what you would call a best actor film. Basically a film where one performance is all encompassing and it’s hard to watch anything else but one solid performance. If you go back and look at the best actor winners of the past decade you are sure to find a lot films that fit this criteria.

I had some problems with “Harsh Times” the film has a lot of scenes with Bale drinking and driving, smoking weed and drinking countless beers. The excessive use of this in the film is probably to accent the point of desperation but I found it more rudimentary and the scenes of Bale and Rodriguez going on long drawn out benders didn’t really help me relate to the characters. There are long scenes with them just sitting around talking about nothing and for a lot of the film you wonder if the film has lost its direction.

I also didn’t really understand the whole “Mexican bride” subplot. Can a guy like this character actually ever care for someone enough to marry them? I felt it to be contrived and that the film should have maybe made that subplot as part of the South Central situation instead. There would have definitely been a lot more tension in the more subtle scenes.

I really doubt that Bale will get nominated for best actor for this film but I at least wish it was considered. Bale is a “best actor” in the making but he just needs that perfect project. Sadly this probably isn’t it.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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