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Overall Rating

Awesome: 24.24%
Worth A Look42.42%
Average: 10.61%
Pretty Bad: 1.52%
Total Crap: 21.21%

5 reviews, 36 user ratings

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Harsh Times
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Doug Bentin

"Harsh Times for These Times, indeed"
4 stars

“Harsh Times” is a film about the moral corruption permeating our society and it makes the “satire” in “Borat” look like the joke page in “Highlights for Children.”

It’s a gritty urban drama about wasted lives and the kind of soul-rot that began to eat away at our society when we gave up on our dreams after World War II. Its two protagonists, Jim and Mike (Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez) are both good looking guys, which tends to romanticize the wrong-side-of-the-L.A.-tracks shithole milieu, but Bale, particularly, is effective as a sociopath who is just about to fall into that permanent midnight of the soul. His only hope of escape is to keep digging deeper.

Jim is an Afghan War vet whose goal in life is to join the Los Angeles Police Department. The latest video footage of LAPD patrolmen clubbing the hell out of a suspect goes a long way in explaining why he wants to join the force. To protect and serve? Protect his home boys and serve himself. Carrying a badge is a shortcut to violence and graft, and Jim’s there.

He’s supposed to be driving his homey Mike around to drop off resumes—Mike’s gal, a lawyer, wants him to find a job. The two men, like an ultraviolent Huck and Tom, cruise the meanest streets in L.A. looking for people to intimidate, weed to steal, hookers to hire, and someone to buy the gun they just stole from a pimp. Seeking a temperance lecture, they are not. Ayer makes the City of Angels look like the place you get to when your trolley takes you one stop past Hell.

It’s not so much that we hate them for what they do, but that we hate them for enjoying it so much while we’re working for the man everyday. Such is the perverse allure of characters like these.

Jim can’t pass the cops’ psych test, and the fact that the LAPD thinks he’s nuts should tell you all you need to know about his mental state. One of the film’s many dark jokes comes along as he is just what the Office of Homeland Security is looking for and so the Feds recruits him.

Jim drinks vinegar and uses a turkey baster to inject clean urine up his penis and into his bladder—I told you the jokes are blacker than Rick Santorum’s chances of being elected president of PETA—and manages to pass the government’s “whiz quiz.” Now the last loose end is making a quick trip to Mexico to tell the woman he promised to marry that he will be assigned out of the U.S. by his new boss and, well, wham bam hasta la vista, ma’am.

“Harsh Times” is the first directing gig for screenwriter David Ayer (“Dark Blue,” “Training Day”) and he does some unexpected things in the editing room. He’s found a way to illustrate Jim’s inevitable disintegration and moral collapse on screen by having the picture get truly funky whenever the character slips too close to the edge. I’ve just finished re-reading Jim Thompson’s scary 1954 novel “A Hell of a Woman,” which concludes with a schizophrenic episode of apocalyptic proportions, and Jim’s breakdown in “Harsh Times” made me think of Thompson’s terrifying prose tricks.

Rodriguez is very good as Jim’s beta dog buddy, wanting to do right by his woman (a convincing Eva Longoria), but unable to ignore the pull of Jim’s screw-it-all persuasion. J.K. Simmons has a small role but a few good scenes as Agent Richards, the pragmatic recruiter for the Feds who knows that a sociopathic rule-bender is perfect for the job this administration wants done.

But the film belongs to Bale, who could take the sharpness of his smile and slit your throat with it. Bale is brilliant, but no one is going to be offering him baby sitting jobs in the near future. He’s easily as intense as Sean Penn but without that “hey-look-at-me-I’m-acting” hamminess. I’m just about ready to declare Bale the best screen actor of the moment.

“Harsh Times” is the snake and you’re the bird. You’ll watch it and be fascinated, all the while knowing that something you won’t like is about to happen.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 11/23/06 03:20:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/01/19 Anne I lasted 20 minutes and some of that time I read these reviews! 1 stars
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
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
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  10-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2007



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