Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of… featurette (24 mins 28 secs); photo gallery.
CHRISTIAN Bale seems to have cornered the market in playing sociopaths. He was, after all, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, a painfully thin Trevor Reznik in The Machinist and a tormented Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.
His latest finds him as unemployed army veteran Jim David, a man who is desperate to land a job with the LAPD who spends most of his days cruising around getting high with his similarly out-of-work friend, Mike (Freddy Rodriguez).
Jim wants to settle down with his Mexican girlfriend (Tammy Trull), while Mike is continually urged to find a job by his long-time girlfriend (Eva Longoria).
But owing to Jim’s volatile temper, the two constantly find themselves in trouble, whether it’s ripping off drug dealers by posing as detectives or getting high and drinking to such an extent that any career potential is always being undermined.
Harsh Times marks the directorial debut of David Ayer, writer of Training Day and Dark Blue, and clearly cruises similar territory in terms of content.
Just as those two previous films boasted powerhouse lead performances from Denzel Washington and Kurt Russell, respectively, so too does Harsh Times with Bale positively electrifying as yet another man on the edge.
Bale’s skill lies in his ability to make Jim both frightening and sympathetic, consistently toying with the audiences’ patience as he veers from self-destructive path to the next.
Yet his energy and edginess makes the ride worth taking, as well as ensuing that the shocking conclusion is every bit as lasting as Ayer doubtless intended.
Rodriguez, too, is also on good form as Jim’s ride-along buddie who slowly comes to realise that his best friend is a timebomb waiting to go off. He is far more low-key than Bale but is clever enough not to become dwarfed by such an incendiary presence.
Even Longoria makes a welcome break from her Desperate Housewives persona as the level-headed influence in Mike’s life, desperate for him to better himself and leave Jim behind.
While comparisons with Ayer’s previous work are inevitable, particularly in his depiction of life on the street, the film still manages to sustain tension throughout and almost every situation feels blisteringly real.
Set alongside the context of contemporary concerns (US soldiers returning from service and trying to integrate themselves back into society), the film even takes on an added layer of relevance.
But it’s Bale you’ll be talking about long after the film has finished, such is the dedication, intensity and (somewhat incredibly) sensitivity he applies to his craft. Comparisons with a young De Niro in Taxi Driver are certainly worth considering.
Like it’s name suggests, Harsh Times is hard, often gruelling viewing, but the ride-along is damn-near essential.
Running time: 115 mins