I’m not all that sure how to describe this film. If you’ve seen Training Day you may have a general idea of the tone; gritty and violent. But this isn’t about corrupt cops, although Bale’s character, Jim does aspire to “serve his country” in that role. Jim is an ex-soldier, a veteran, and the film opens on one of his dreams as he flashes back to a night battle and bloodshed.
His best friend, Mike, is supposed to be looking for a job, with Jim driving him around the city so he can deliver his CVs. Then Jim discovers that the L.A police department regrets to inform him he no longer meets their criteria. Or some other phrase that means he is out. And he is not happy. Cue an anger attack as he sits in the car waiting for the lights to change, and then he almost assaults the driver of the car waiting next to him
Well adjusted, and the type you’d like as your neighbourhood cop! somehow I doubt it.
Because of this disappointment Jim decides he needs to get fucked up. He’s been living pure since he began to apply for police jobs, but he doesn’t need to any longer. And so we get to see a day of drugs and drink and guns. And let’s not forget calling Mike’s “old lady” and pretending to be arranging interviews, pretending that Mike’s spent his time wisely instead of drinking and robbing drug dealers.
All through this Bale plays a thoroughly dislikable character. He is rude, sexist, violent, uncaring, and clearly has issues. But at the same time he is somehow charming. The bad boy with the vulnerable side maybe? One of those characters you know you it’d be horrible to actually know, but on screen you can almost see the positives. An asshole, there is no doubt, but an asshole that could be more.
There is a certain amount of repetition in the middle of the film. Violence and drinking, drug-taking and drinking, then a little more violence. This causes the middle section to lose some focus and coherence, and it starts to drag a little. And at just under two hours the film does seem a little long, however I can see the purpose behind the repetition. It really establishes the bond between Jim and Mike, between Mike and Sylvia, and the differences, the mood swings and rages that are part of Jim.
Watching the audience must know that it can’t end well. But despite the foreboding the nature of the ending is still somewhat of a shock. And it does redeem the middle section. I can’t recommend it unreservedly, but it does deserve to be seen. Possibly just to witness Bale’s acting; he has an ability to truly inhabit a character. In The Machinist he took it to physical limits, here is is excellent as Jim, a character that seems to be two opposing people in the one body. There is the rage filled being, prepared to kill anyone, pop pop and move on, just like in the army. Don’t think about it. And yet he is also a friend who cares about Mike, a man who loves his girlfriend. In another actor either aspect could have been over played, but Bale is utterly convincing.