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Overall Rating
3.51

Awesome: 24.62%
Worth A Look43.08%
Average: 10.77%
Pretty Bad: 1.54%
Total Crap: 20%

5 reviews, 35 user ratings


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Harsh Times
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by Scott Weinberg

"Harsh indeed."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: If I said "directorial debut from the writer of "The Fast and the Furious" and "S.W.A.T.," you'd probably be forgiven for dismissing the project as simplistic cop-action silliness, but veteran screenwriter David Ayer also gave us "Dark Blue" and "Training Day," so clearly there's some intelligence behind the guy's testosterone-y screenplays -- which is why I wasn't that shocked to discover that "Harsh Times" turned out to be a smart, slick, and somewhat shocking little movie. Plus it offers two phenomenal lead performances from Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez, an unflinching look at the culture of violence, and a surprisingly scathing indictment of the modern-day war machine.

Jim David is a former Army Ranger who's back home in L.A., desperately hoping for a job in civilian law enforcement, and astonishingly self-destructive in every conceivable way. Along with his old pal Mike, Jim spends his days drinking, smoking weed, and capably overpowering the urban thugs he comes across. But Jim's a petty thug in his own right, only he's one that was created by the military, and now he has nowhere to put his massive parcel of perpetual rage.

Jim and Mike seem to be all but entirely intent on screwing themselves out of the few small assets they possess. Mike has a sweet-natured and caring girlfriend, but he consistently screws her over by refusing to get a job. Jim, for his part, has the inside track on a job in law enforcement, but his inescapable anger and his proclivity for illegal activities seem destined to ruin his life.

We're invited to ride along with these guys for a couple of self-destructive days, while Harsh Times makes a few subtle and seriously insightful statements about the nature of violence, the allure of being bad, and the dangers of being loyal to someone who seems hell-bent on ruining his own life.

Harsh Times is a dark and frequently torturous tale of the ways in which "acceptable violence" can be carried over into normal life, and it's not shy about exposing the frustrating truths about life after military service. Jim has a loving girlfriend in Mexico and an outside shot at a great position in the Homeland Security office -- so why does he continue to smoke weed, brawl with gang-bangers, and spend his days as an irredeemable thug?

Because that's all the guy knows.

As Jim, Christian Bale is, well, he's just amazing. After American Psycho, The Machinist, and Batman Begins, I'm fully convinced that Christian Bale can do just about anything, and in Harsh Times he creates a character who's as resoundingly hate-worthy as he is entirely fascinating. One of the finest actors working today, Bale creates a character who's both hateful and despicable -- but you won't be able to take your eyes off the guy.

As his (frequently reluctant) partner in crime, Freddy Rodriguez does a brilliant job with a difficult role. Bale gets to do all the flashy and shocking stuff, which leaves Rodriguez the option only to react, respond, and recoil as Bale burns down the screen. At the same time you're wondering why Rodriguez's character continues to hang with Bale, the actor makes it pretty clear what's going on; he does it because they're old pals. And sometimes, unfortunately, misplaced loyalty leads to some seriously bad decisions.

Although not without a few third act missteps and a handful of redundant moments, Harsh Times is a ballsy, brave, and blisteringly intense movie. It's certainly not "Hollywood" in any discernible way, and Mr. Ayer is to be commended for sticking to his convictions and making the movie he wanted to make -- regardless of how "non-commerical" the final product is. So while it's not any sort of action-laden crowd-pleaser like the writer's earlier work, Harsh Times is clearly a passion project, and one that just may net the filmmaker a few new directing gigs.

It'd be easy to say that "Harsh Times" is worth seeing for Bale's performance alone, but there's some real angst and anger hidden beneath the surface of this story, and Ayer is able to siphon out the most sobering aspects of his message and punch you right in the gut with 'em.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12776&reviewer=128
originally posted: 09/15/05 03:36:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/30/09 Reiners the best movie ever. my favorite 5 stars
10/15/09 Abhishek Chakraborty Must see once. I'm serious...starts off ordinary...OMG but what a powerful last half. 4 stars
12/15/08 mr.mike Requires patience , but for once Bale lives up to his hype: he is phenomenol. 4 stars
12/06/08 PAUL SHORTT A HEAVY HANDED, FOUL MOUTHED FILM, BOTH PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY VIOLENT 1 stars
5/11/08 Jack Sommersby Bale is searingly brilliant in this first-rate film. 4 stars
7/18/07 Shocker Milwaukee My favorite movie of all time. 5 stars
6/28/07 Adam G Loved it.I'm Sure a lot of people can relate. 5 stars
6/18/07 Alyssa! This film will kill brain cells. It is trippy shit yo'! 1 stars
4/23/07 Robbo-UK Beautiful intelligent study of mental illness, well acted and directed. 5 stars
4/20/07 Perplankton Gibbons Anything less than 5 is unacceptable. Nasty 1223, your really dumb, read between the lines. 5 stars
4/16/07 Kevin One of my favorite movies of the year, Christian Bale needs to win an oscar 5 stars
4/03/07 AJ Muller Intense,moving flick with stellar acting.And Ursic,I'm from CA,we DO talk this way,sorry. 4 stars
3/29/07 Luke True, it's a little too long w/o much of a story but Bale is so freaking good you wont care 4 stars
3/25/07 Amanda this movie is absolutely riveting. Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez are amazing! 5 stars
3/17/07 Krishna Visceral, intense. Watch the flick, not the blab that's greg's "critique-without-a-cause". 5 stars
3/14/07 Vince Another great film the Oscar people ignored 5 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Rambling plot frustates, but Bale helps us hold on. 3 stars
1/29/07 Wiseman The plot dosent stay on track, makes u keep thinking somthing is gonna happen..nothingDoes. 1 stars
1/08/07 nasty1223 this movie made me want to yak all over the place!!! horrible 1 stars
11/23/06 Tiffany Losco Wasnt my favorite movie, but it was ok. 4 stars
11/19/06 chase absolutely hilarious, christian bale does black comedy better than anyone else out there 5 stars
11/15/06 Brandon You think its an action movie but turns out to be 2 low lives smoking pot the whole movie. 1 stars
11/14/06 pat worst fucking movie in the world 1 stars
11/13/06 Melina bale is creepy! i couldn't believe how out of control his character was! 4 stars
11/12/06 Bryan The preview was the best part of this movie. i love action movies but this SUCKED. 2 stars
11/12/06 giselle Christian Bale is amazing. 5 stars
11/09/06 tommy shaw scary to think how many Jim,s are walking along side of us as a result of WAR Great movie 4 stars
11/08/06 rob NOT a Hollywood slick-pic: brace yourselves for a gritty, intense ride 4 stars
10/23/06 Krave This is LA hardcore street action. Better than Training Day! 5 stars
8/29/06 Gerard McCarthy Outstanding Film, Bale and Rodriguez riveting. 5 stars
8/25/06 Gary the films intensity jumps at you when you least expect it 4 stars
9/24/05 hunglikeanAnt Saw this in Toronto - Blew my Mind! Oscar Worthy 5 stars
9/13/05 terry foster who's on crack? a false note from beg to end... 1 stars
9/13/05 Sean Gilligan every bit as intense as training day. bale and rodriquez are INCREDIBLY powerful. 5 stars
8/24/05 Sparky THIS MOVIE KICKS ASS! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  10-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2007

UK
  18-Aug-2006

Australia
  N/A



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