Harsh Times dir. by

23 August 2006

Cast: , , ,
Rated :

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usI’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.

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7 Responses

  1. "And so we get to see a day of drugs and drink and guns". That's really what it's all about, isn't it? I mean, it's a character study, it's an exploration of modern alienation, blah blah blah…why can't they just be honest about it and make something like Rambo or Predator? I decided not to go see this film because I am tired, tired, tired of the modern preoccupation with violence, drugs, despair and deviance. It's only a tiny minority of people who live like that. That element of the human condition has been done to death, so to speak. But we get the conveyor belt of films…Raging Bull…Taxi Driver…Trainspotting…Once Were Warriors…that thing where Russell Crowe is a skinhead. I've only seen one of those (Taxi Driver) and I have no intention of seeing any of the others, or any more films that revel in sordidness. It's a pity Christian Bale wastes his time on trash like this.

  2. Fence says:

    It is a character study, done through drink and drugs and violence. That is simply the medium.

    If you haven't seen a film you can't really talk about it though can you. But then again, if you are prepared to miss out on quality films like Once Were Warriors simply because of violence, well, then that is your right.

  3. Do they really have to cover this ground again…and again…and again…there are so many other sorts of story to be told.

    Relatively normal people are more interesting than completely fucked-up people. More complex, too. Surely there is something deeply unhealthy in our obsession with violence.

    And surely you avoid some sorts of film or book because, after a while, you really do feel you've seen it all before.

  4. Fence says:

    Drama needs tension though. Sure, it isn't all that representative of the general population, but in the case of Harsh Times Jim's behaviour has much more to do with his time in the army rather than his neighbourhood, and a lot of the tension is between his desire to "get fucked up" and his best friend's wish to settle down and live a normal life.

    I don't think I avoid any film, simply because of the style or genre. I'll give anything a go because I don't believe that genre is all that important. I'm not a huge fan of chick lit for example, but I do read and enjoy on occasion. Same with most film genres. I'm not a big fan of stupid rom-coms, but I'll watch. Usually I'll respond with a "meh" but every now and then I'll like it.

    Really I almost prefer to know nothing at all about a film before I go see it.

  5. I agree with you about that, anyway…I love going to a film that you know NOTHING about, preferably haven't even heard about, and loving it. One example of that was "Ginger Snaps".

    I would rather read chick-lit (even though I haven't, yet) than a lot of more "respectable" genres…like thrillers or crime novels or war stories. It seems to me that chick lit is closer to being proper literature, because it's about human relations.

    I tried being open-minded for a long time, years. It was always my principle to give everything a bash. After a while I realised I wasn't going to be surprised. At least, not often enough to make the experiment worthwhile. What's the point in us being adventurous and open-minded if film-makers aren't going to be?

  6. Fence says:

    Haven't seen Ginger Snaps.

    But maybe you are expecting too much if you are going to the cinema to be surprised. I don't really value originality. I mean, if you think about it, everything has been done before. I'm more interested in the way things are done. Are the characters engaging. How the plot is presented.

    Lack of surprise is no problem.

  7. James says:

    Sounds good… Christian Bale is a great actor, even when he does overplay the part (e.g. in Shaft) it just works.