Harsh Times (2006)
|Genre(s): Action / Crime / Drama|
|MGM || R - 120 minutes || November 10, 2006|
|Reviewer: Elyusha Vafaeisefat || Posted On: 2006-11-18|
Writer(s): David Ayer (written by)
Cast: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, Chaka Forman, J.K. Simmons
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Harsh Times is veteran screenwriter David Ayer’s (who wrote Training Day, Dark Blue, S.W.A.T.) first crack at directing. The story revolves around best friends Jim (Christian Bale) and Alonzo (Freddy Rodriguez) and the troubles they encounter as they both try to look for jobs in Los Angeles. Jim is a recent Iraq war veteran and is still haunted by his past and Alonzo is an ex-druggie who is trying to get his act together thanks to his girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria). Jim decides to drive around Alonzo as they “drop off resumes” when in fact they are drinking and smoking around town while encountering some of their old friends along the way.
For starters, Bale gives a fantastic performance as Jim. His intensity reminded me very much of his performance in American Psycho. I don’t know of any recent actor since Jack Nicholson who is able to keep up that level of intensity so convincingly for an entire film. Bale is without question the only reason one should even go see the film. He keeps your attention throughout the film and makes the film watch able. Some other notable performances are from newcomers Tammy Trull (Marta), Samantha Esteban (Letty) in small roles and the always fantastic J.K. Simmons as Agent Richards.
To sum up the film, basically, some scenes work and most don’t. I felt that Ayer had several opportunities to make a very good film but he backs away from them. For instance, there is a scene with Jim and Alonzo in the car and they are being pulled over by the cops. I felt this scene had great intensity and could take the film to the next level but it ends up being conventional. Another great scene is the encounter between Letty and Jim at the beginning of the film. It had great intensity and was very reminiscent of films like Training Day or Colors. I felt there were several opportunities to make this film a very good one but unfortunately, no one took advantage of them.
Maybe it’s because this is Ayer’s first film he directed, I don’t know. I guess first time director’s take less risks because they want to make sure that people go see their film so they can make another one. In terms of the dialogue, I felt that a lot of the scenes had great exchanges between Jim and Alonzo as well as Jim and Marta (Jim’s girlfriend in Mexico). However, other scenes (especially between Sylvia and Alonzo) just didn’t work in terms of dialogue. If felt too fake and too conventional.
To me, it felt like this was either Ayer’s alternate version of Training Day or his first version of the script. Both Harsh Times and Day follow the same pattern in terms of the intense and ultimately not likable lead (Bale in this film and Denzel Washington in TD) and the more likable supporting actor (Rodriguez in this and Ethan Hawke in TD). Training Day’s script felt much more polished and much more focused than this script. It seemed to me that Ayer wasn’t sure what he wanted the film to be about. Friendship? Loyalty? Effects of war on a person? The U.S. Government? While the film had plenty to say about each of these topics it never picks one and decides to focus on it.
I think that is where Training Day succeeds and Harsh Times does not. While Day is about several different things, by the end we figure out that it was in fact Jake’s (Ethan Hawke’s character) film. Jake goes through the biggest change and finds the most redemption whereas in Harsh Times Alonzo also goes through some changes but it is less believable and more melodramatic than I think Ayer would have liked to do it.
As I mentioned before, the film had plenty of potential to be on the same level of films like Training Day, Colors or even Bad Lieutenant, which show that veteran versus rookie dynamic so well. While Bale’s performance is worth seeing, ultimately a weak script with little focus and the inability of Ayer to take advantage of those great moments he has is what makes Harsh Times a few steps below a film like Training Day.