March 22, 2007
Once again Christian Bale disappears into another role, demonstrating how he is not afraid to play an unlikable character. Jim is certainly an amoral piece of work and Bale attacks the role with his customary gusto playing the character as a cocky, super-confident individual. Like Denzel Washington’s crooked cop in Training Day, there is an almost seductive allure about Jim and this is due in large part to Bale’s charisma. Just when Jim comes dangerously close to being just another tired cliché, an impromptu road trip to Mexico with Mike and another buddy to visit his girlfriend reveals a surprising soft side to Jim. She could be his salvation if he’d let her. However, he is veering rapidly out of control and he doesn’t seem to care. As the film goes on, he shows glimmers of normalcy but they are increasing few and far between. Jim is clearly coming apart at the seams and Bale portrays this to devastating effect.
Unlike Jim, Mike is still freaked out about the violence that they encounter, like when a guy he and Jim are making a deal with is suddenly and viciously killed. This incident doesn’t even faze Jim and it becomes apparent that over the course of the movie, Mike is being pulled from two sides: the corrupting influence of Jim and his girlfriend Sylvia (Longoria), a lawyer who is trying to keep him honest. Mike may be Jim’s best friend but he realizes just how crazy he is in one particular scene and Freddy Rodriguez handles it beautifully as we see the fear in his eyes and the internal struggle to keep it in check so that he doesn’t provoke an already wild-eyed Jim.
Ayer adheres to the same template that he used in his previous films with the more combat savvy, corrupt and crazy protagonist teamed up with a younger protégé who has some vestige of a conscience. Ayer has an innate understanding of the alpha male mindset and how they interact with each other. He nails the rhythms and cadences of L.A. street slang including the worldview of these guys where women are subservient and your best friend is like your brother. However, it seems like a retread of his previous efforts and doesn’t say anything we don’t already know or have seen before. Harsh Times features some strong performances but they are trapped within the confines of a stereotypical genre movie.
There is an audio commentary by producer/writer/director David Ayer. He claims that the film is a study of friendship and based on a time when all he had in the world was his friends. He praises Bale’s ability to learn Spanish and the L.A. street lingo used predominantly throughout the movie. Ayer talks about the street slang and how he used as much of it as possible for authenticity’s sake. He cites this film as a love letter to L.A. with lots of inside jokes and references that people born in the city would appreciate. To this end, he points out all the practical locations he used in the city.
Also included are seven deleted scenes with more footage of Jim and Mike cruising around the streets of L.A. We get a little more of Mike’s backstory and there is an interesting scene where Mike goes to a job interview and it turns out to be a marketing scam.
Finally, there is one trailer and nine T.V. spots (four in Spanish).