With every performance, Christian Bale adds to the fact that he is the worlds most interesting actor. Look at his most recent performances, The Prestige, The New World, Batman Begins, The Machinist, and this movie, all different characters, yet Bale inhabits them so completely that we believe every one. What I admire most about Bale is that he gives 100% to each role. Regardless of the quality of the script, or the talent of the director, Bale never cruises his way through or takes the easy way out. This is a world class actor completely in his prime, and he’s really the only good thing about Harsh Times. He’s so good that you don’t mind sitting through the crappy dialogue, contrived plot, and broad characters. You are so involved in Bale’s intensity that you’re willing to see past the film’s flaws.
Harsh Times is David Ayers directorial debut. He’s the man responsible for such crappy screenplays as Training Day, The Fast and the Furious, and SWAT. Ayer’s problem is that he writes like a 16 year old, and he directs like one as well. He focuses too much on typical homeboy slang, forcing us to always keep ourselves at arm’s length when it comes to relating to the characters. It’s sad when you can tell the actors in his films are doing their best not to laugh at the things they’re told to say. Bale cuts through the crap and comes out with an interesting character in spite of Ayer’s writing.
The story concerns a man named Jim Davis (Bale), who has returned from service in Afghanistan and is applying to be a part of the LAPD. He drives his buddy Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) around so he can also look for a job. Mike’s girlfriend Sylvia, a lame Eva Longoria, is tired of his mooching. Instead of actually doing anything productive, Mike and Jim proceed to get drunk (while driving) score some pot and try to sell a gun. This is pretty much all they do until the last 15 minutes of the movie when everything starts to hit the fan.
The story really doesn’t matter, the focus is Bale. Without him, I could easily see this film going direct to DVD or cable. Ayer does his best Paul Schrader impression by giving us an unredeemable character that still keeps us involved, but Ayer is a hack and the weight of the film falls directly on the actors. Rodriguez does the best he can with what he’s given, and J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from Spider Man) adds a few minutes of needed humor, but the rest of the supporting actors offer nothing of value.
I can’t say that I liked this film. I found it completely juvenile, and it had nothing to offer that hasn’t been said before. You mean some soldiers have a hard time adjusting back to civilian life? I have never heard that or seen that anywhere. Thanks a bunch David Ayer! I do recommend it though, just to see Bale’s performance. Notice the way in which he changes the tone of his voice depending on who he’s with at the time. Watch how precisely he irons his dress shirt, as if his life will end if it’s not absolutely perfect. It’s these small details that help Bale get to heart of the character. This is a fantastic piece of acting that needs to be seen.
The DVD is out on March 13th. It includes some deleted scenes and a commentary by Ayer, which I wasn’t even going to go near. I’ve heard that Ayer is planning to remake Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. The fact that anyone would remake that film is enough to drive me over the edge, but if this guy get’s his wish, It might finally be enough to make me give up on Hollywood forever.