Harsh Times stars Christian Bale as a sleazy ex-soldier who is looking for a job on the LAPD. Unable to land a position due to psychological reasons, his life spirals out of control and threatens to take his friends and family down with him.
Bale has grown to be one of my favorite actors. Newsies was one of my favorite movies growing up, and recently he has shown intensity in American Psycho, Shaft, Equilibrium, Batman Begins and, most recently, The Prestige. He's a dynamic actor who can teeter on the edge of repulsion without feeding his characters to the dogs. In American Psycho, his breakout performance, he was subtle but psychotic. In Shaft, he was downright deranged. In Batman Begins, he was the hero, but a psychologically damaged one at that. In Harsh Times, he is once again the protagonist, but he is about as far from being good as one can be. If his character could be compared to any other, it would probably have to be Denzel Washington's in Training Day, though that is hardly a fair comparison... To compare Bale to Washington for this role is downright cruel. After all, Bale is good here, but not nearly that good.
The problem with Harsh Times is that the movie is about a man losing control, but there is no happy ending in sight. Bale's character is not very likable to begin with, and just when you think he's going to come around, he goes off the deep end. There are times when Bale manages to make you feel for him, but most of the time it's an impossible feat. A movie does not need to star an upstanding citizen, but Harsh Times lacks a lead character who deserves even an ounce of compassion.
The movie has its moments and all around is not a bad production, but despite being somewhat plot driven, it is essentially a character drama that just doesn't explore its characters well enough. Freddy Rodriguez offers up a good performance in a supporting role, but the movie could have been more effective had it focused on him and allowed us to see Bale disintegrate through Rodriguez's eyes. At times, it seems as though writer/director David Ayer wanted to do just this, but he doesn't commit to it, and we are left with a shaky film that isn't very satisfying.
Harsh Times does get better in the final act, but the ending is rather abrupt and doesn't allow for reflection on everything that has happened. After Bale flips out, I would have liked to see how his character looks back on his actions, but that doesn't happen. At least Eva Longoria looks good.
Harsh Times has its moments, and if you are a fan of Bale's you may want to check it out. It isn't a waste of time, but isn't a very good use of time, either. A little more focus and more substantial character development could have made this tragic tale quite interesting, but as is it is nothing more than a moderately forgettable crime drama.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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