Title: Harshtimes (2006)
Director: David Ayer
With the recent success of his two Batman films, Christian Bale is now more popular then ever. Forget all that gossip about him screaming his head off on the set of Terminator Salvation, no matter what, there is no denying that the guy is at the top of his game. Thing is, for me, he always was at the top of his game. In my book the guy has always been one of the best actors of his generation. Christian Bale proved he was great from his very first theatrical performance in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. In that movie Bale was only 12 years old, playing the role of a wealthy english kid trying to survive in a Shanghai Japan during the last days of the second world war, when the Japanese kicked the English out of Shanghai. The range of emotions that Bale had to convey at such a young age, and his success in effectively transmiting those emotions through his performance showed everyone that this kid was going to be something special. Empire of the Sun started for Christian Bale what was going to become an incredible acting career. I mean, have you guys seen American Psycho? The Machinist? These films are proof that the guy simply inmmerses himself in a character and becomes somebody else entirely. He's like a chameleon. Weird thing is that its on his lesser known films in which he truly shines. Not on his Batman movies, not on films like Reign of Fire or Terminator Salvation (to mention some of his more commercial films) but its in those roles in smaller films where he shows his true colors as an actor. Case in point: Harsh Times.
On Harsh Times Bale plays Jim, a war veteran who has been honorably discharged. He ends up going to Mexico and falling in love with this extremely humble Mexican girl named Marta. He wants nothing more then to marry her, become a cop in the LAPD and bring Marta over so she can live with him in L.A. Problem is, he gets rejected by the LAPD because he is such a fuck up. He smokes dope, and basically, he is kind of on the edge all the time, like a ticking bomb about to go off. He doesnt pass the psychiatric examination, so he gets rejected. This gets him even crazier. He releases his frustrations by getting "fucked up" smoking weed, getting drunk, stealing and worse. He is in the same type of jam with his best friend and co conspirator Mike. They both need a job, they both need to get their lives together. Will they ever find a job and stop wasting their lives away?
So I dont know why I never watched this movie. To me, Harsh Times was one of those movies I wouldnt normally watch. I dont love films about Chicanos living in the hood killing each other, which to me was what this movie was going to be about. Guys going down the dark path, making all the wrong choices. And it was. The two main characters in Harsh Times, Mike and Jim, are both trying to fit in with the rest of society, and when they cant, their frustration gets released in all the wrong ways. This kind of movie can go down a cliched "been there done that" path which I dont like. But to my surprise this movie was so much more rewarding then that. A lot had to do with the excellent script written by David Ayer. Who's this David Ayer guy you might ask? Well, he is the guy responsible for writing Training Day, a film I hold in extremely high regard and a film which I strongly urge anyone out there to see, if you havent already.
So yeah, this film has many strengths. The script feels genuine, it feels like something like this could actually happen. Ayer says he based this movie on his real life experiences while living in South Central, and it shows on the script. The dialog feels real, same with the situations these two guys get themselves in. The other good thing the film has for it is Christian Bales performance. The guy transforms himself yet again into an american psycho, not the one we saw in Mary Harrons excellent film, but an entirely different kind of american psycho. On this one he is a veteran dealing with the horrors of war. The images of real life death and mayhem he experienced while serving his country. In his exterior, and to everyone else, he gives the appearance of being an up standing responsible citizen, when in reality the guy is the most immoral unhinged individual you could ever wish to know. You see Jim suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. What that means is that his a war veteran who has lost it, war and death is in his head and he cant live a normal life anymore. Its what happens when our great goverment trains somebody to become a killing machine, after all that death and all that chaos, they just cant be the same ever again. In layman terms: he's fucked for life.
Bale's performance as the war torn Jim reminds me of a similar performance. That of Harvey Keitel in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. In Bad Lieutenant Keitel plays a police officer who is the worst kind of human being. No moral values, no remorse, no kindness or goodness in his heart. He simply sinks lower and lower in madness with every passing moment of film. He goes from one bad situation to a worse one. Bale's insane Jim is like that, you keep wondering if this guy can be more on the edge then he already is. Could he mess things up even worse? Problem is he is taking his best friend Mike with him. Mike, played by the Chicago born Puerto Rican actor Freddy Rodriguez is trying to get a job so he can live a normal life with his wife Eva Langoria. Cant say I blame him. And he is about to achieve it, but not before Jim pulls him into madness. Basically, Mike is very unfortunate to have gotten so close to a guy like Jim. Jim returned from war a changed man, and now Mike is stuck with a psycho for a bestfriend. Will his loyalty to his friend win over in the end? Or will he choose a normal life with his wife? The film also plays with themes of "are we men or are we mice? Do we do what we want, or do we do what our woman tells us to do?" Eva Langoria plays the feminine voice of reason to which Mike should to listen to. In the film she plays a minor yet vital role. The balance in Mikes life, the call to normality, decency and love. Will Mike hear it? Rodriguez also shows his acting chops on this one, though in my opinion, in some of the more intense moments, he kind of misses the mark. Still, he does an excellent job for the most part.
All in all, a very intense film. Shows a guy who is torn by memories of war. One of Christian Bales best performances, and he gets to stretch his acting muscles within the confines of David Ayer's excellent script. Highly recommend it!
Rating: 5 out of 5