Harsh Times is an explosive drama about two friends in Los Angeles struggling to grow up and find work. Christian Bale stars as Jim Davis, an ex-army ranger struggling to come to terms with life back in the real world. The action follows Jim and his best friend as they get wasted in Los Angeles and try to find jobs.
Upon leaving the army Jim lives with his girlfriend (Tammy Trull) in Mexico and only returns to LA to find work with the intention of marrying her and bringing her to live with him. He has his sights firmly set on becoming a police officer but his army experiences have left him psychologically damaged and the violence he has become accustomed to proves difficult to escape. He hangs out with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) who is under pressure from his girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria) to find a steady job and stop messing about.
The two friends have little appetite for job hunting though and instead seem intent on finding ways to get themselves into trouble. As the days pass and Jim gets rejected by the LAPD he becomes increasingly agitated and Mike starts to realise just how much his friend has been changed by his experiences.
This is the directorial debut of David Ayer the writer of Training Day and he also penned the screenplay for this effort. The direction is slick and evocative and shows a great deal of promise. The story has elements of black humour to it but for the most part this is a serious and harrowing account of a soldier who has been chewed up and spat out by his country and who cannot adapt back to a "normal" life.
Although rejected by the LAPD Jim is instead recruited by Homeland Security but what they want him to do is at odds with his own plans for a new life. His friends try to persuade him that a life with the girl he loves is the way to go but Jim cannot reconcile his plans and instead drags Mike on a self-destructive streak which can only end in disaster.
Christian Bale is undoubtedly one of the best actors working today and he is excellent as Jim. He switches between being charming and likeable to being overly macho and violent at the flick of a switch, he drifts between chilling with his friend and the accompanying slang speak to being an obedient grunt respectfully shouting "yes sir" to his superiors. Bale masterfully portrays a man on the edge unable to control himself and pointlessly denying the impact all of the killing has had on him.
Freddy Rodriguez as his best mate Mike is also very good, he´s a fun loving guy with a devious streak but basically decent. The film wouldn´t work without the chemistry between these two and as it turns out they are completely believable as best friends. When Mike realises how far gone Jim is he still tries to help him despite the protestations of his girlfriend and it is their friendship which forms the central theme of the movie.
Harsh Times is a well made film but the plot is fairly thin. This is testosterone driven and unashamedly macho and the dialogue isn´t always convincing. For the first ten minutes or so I struggled to believe Bale as Jim despite his tremendous skill as an actor and this was mainly due to attempted ghetto dialogue. However by the end of the movie I was completely drawn in and had come to invest quite a lot in the morally bankrupt duo.
The film runs for 120 minutes and it is emotionally draining to watch. Harsh Times is not a classic film and things get quite ugly in places but it does make an important point about the psychological trauma of having murder as a part of your everyday activities and then trying to live a peaceful life. It may sound unoriginal in concept but in execution it feels fresh and unique.