I’ll preface this review by saying I’m a huge Christian Bale fan. I’ve loved his movies all the way back to Equilibrium and throughout his career as Bruce Wayne, John Conner, and Melvin Purvis. So it was pretty hard for me to love his character of Jim Davis in Harsh Times.
In his directorial debut, David Ayer(Street Kings 2008) takes two unemployed friends, sets them in central Los Angeles, depicts them as drug addicts and alcoholics, and has them go on missions seeking employment. At first glance the plot seems as shallow as a wade pool, but as the movie progresses we get to see a deeper look into the main characters and the personal demons they deal with.Christian Bale is Jim Davis, a former Army Ranger who toured through Afghanistan and has been honorably discharged. He now lives in Los Angeles trying to get a job with the LAPD.
The movie starts out with Jim having nightmares about his time over seas as a Ranger while in Mexico sleeping in the back of his car, staying at his Mexican girlfriend’s house. It becomes clear that Jim comes down to Mexico on a semi-regular basis to see his “old lady” as he puts it. We’re introduced shortly thereafter to Jim’s best friend, Mike (Freddy Rodriguez; Planet Terror/Grindhouse), who is unemployed as well but living with his long time girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria-Parker). Sylvia goes out of her way to make sure Mike has copies of his resume ready to handout and even gives Mike lunch money every day. Jim and Mike set off to look for jobs but get sidetracked along the way due to alcohol and drugs. This is pretty much what the movie encompasses but on a deeper level.
It becomes apparent, as the movie progresses, that Jim isn’t quite all there. He’s eccentric, over the top, and reckless. He’s really the enabler between him and Mike, and the real reason why Mike starts to get in trouble both legally and at home. Jim drinks in the morning, steals marijuana, and gets high in the afternoon. He’s a thug with a mission, as I would put it. His ultimate goal is to be a cop…but when the LAPD rejects his application he turns his attention to bigger and broader things, such as going “federal.” Mike, however, doesn’t exactly want to spend his days getting high and drunk but with a little coaxing from Jim, Mike gives in and it’s his listening to Jim that blows up his relationship with his uber hot and responsible girlfriend, Sylvia.
Half of the movie is spent by the two of them busting up some gangsters at Jim’s ex-girlfriend’s house, stealing their guns, and then trying to sell them for some quick cash. The two of them each eventually find employment but it comes at a cost.Bale’s character is an interesting character study. He talks about caring about his girlfriend in Mexico but when it comes time to choose between her and a federal job, he ultimately chooses to dump her and take the job. When he finds out that there is more than he bargained for in Mexico, he goes a little insane. He obviously has a form of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) which explains the nightmares, the hot/cold snaps he has with his personality, and the eccentric behavior. Bale does one of his finest acting jobs here, even if the role is incredibly out of place for the British born actor. His over the top behavior reminded me of a previous role he did in American Psycho, it really does show that he has incredible range with his acting. Rodriguez ably acts Mike as the guy who really wants to get his act together but doesn’t want to say no to his friend either. It ends up ruining his relationship and job prospects. The ending really felt rushed to me but I would venture to guess that David Ayer really didn’t have much of a choice when writing the final scene.
If you’re looking for an interesting drama that features outstanding character studies, look no further than Harsh Times. I laughed at times in the movie because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from Bale, but it’s an excellent film as a whole.