Studio: The Weinstein Company.
US Rating: R - Strong Violence, Language And Drug Use
Film Length: 116 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/MPEG4AVC
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Plus, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish Stereo
Subtitles: Optional English subtitles
The Film - out of
Ex Ranger, Jim Luther Davis (Christian Bale), has returned from active duty in the middle east to Los Angeles, where he exists in the temperamental world of East L.A. Aspiring to join the L.A.P.D., he is crushed when rejected and spends his time, along with his friend Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodriguez), drinking, doing drugs and spiraling into a self-perpetuated mayhem. He is given an opportunity to try out for a job with Homeland Security, an opportunity that he relishes but never seems to treat seriously.
Written and Directed by David Ayer (writer of Training Day, Dark Blue), Harsh Times is a gritty drama that focuses on a few troubling days for two long-time friends, Jim and Mike. This film, much like Training Day, examines the mentality of a dangerous man through long, conversational diatribes broken up by moments of violence. Harsh Times is raw and real and filmed at genuine locations that have neglect tearing away at them. These locations help create an authentic feel to the film that, along with the dialogue that bursts with a listless anger and unscripted flavor, draw you into the unfriendly streets of East L.A.
There are moments during this film that I was reminded of City of God, the remarkable film by Fernando Meirelles about the pervasive lawlessness that young children in a dangerous neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro experience day-in and day-out. . While Harsh Times may stylistically have more in common with Training Day, it is the flow of life, the fog of anarchy felt in locations that blow over the lives of those that live and work there that reminded me the most of City of God, that and the simmering intensity that infested many scenes.
This is ultimately the story of Jim sinking into a state of personal disarray, told through the dynamic of his close friendship with Mike and his own carelessness with his almost ‘programmed’ career dream. These two friends seem to be facing in the same direction when the film begins, but there are clear shifts where their perspectives and appeals to the world diverge, hard shifts where the weight of Jim’s bad influence and increasingly unstable mind are an obvious impediment to Mike’s earnest attempt to be straight and try hard. This weight ultimately becomes a void in their lives, like a black hole, that the characters never see clearly enough to know how to escape.
Bale is a revelation. Blending a cocky yet saddening charm with a vicious imbalance, he portrays a lost soul with such darkness in it that even he can’t seem to realize just how dangerous he is. It is a genuine performance that lacks the slick verbalism or clinical self-awareness that often shrouds the criminal element in many films like this.
All the other actors in Harsh Times give solid performances, from Jim’s friend Mike Alonzo, played by Freddy Rodríguez, Mike’s wife played by Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria and Tammy Trull (Marta), Bale’s love interest in Mexico.
Harsh Times is a story of hopelessness and failure, both of the spirit and of self. It is about choices and repercussions and is entirely engrossing.
The greens and oranges of life in LA are contrasted with the steely grey of the federal buildings – the different hues look god here.
Not exactly showcase material for your High Definition home theater, but absolutely suitable for this film and its subject.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director David Ayer – This is a solid commentary track from first time Director Ayer. He provides both a writer and a director’s perspective on the film and his passion for this project is evident. He shares a few good stories from the production, particularly how they captured the scenes of Bale’s character weaving his car dangerously along a highway in Mexico. This is worth a listen.
7 Deleted Scenes – These scenes have a poor quality look and mostly add additional expository dialogue around certain scenes kept in the film. There is one deleted scene, however, that I rather enjoyed; giving the excellent Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) a little extra time on screen and that is never a bad thing.
Exclusive HD Content: The Making of Harsh Times (24:28) – This behind the scenes making of is suitably under-produced, containing a few conversations with David Ayers and some of the cast. One major part of the ‘making of’ examines a shocking bar scene from the film. Without commentary, it inter-cuts the process to set the scene up with the final edit, giving us an interesting side-by-side comparison between the unfinished and finished product.
Trailer Gallery - The Theatrical Trailer along with TV spots in both English and Spanish are included.
Christian Bale, part of a new breed of actors that make choices based more on characters in dark places than potential box office returns, is a rising force of talent. He recently gave the world perhaps the most interesting Batman/Bruce Wayne on film and his drastic personal investment to play the role of Trevor Reznik in the extraordinary The Machinist, demonstrated just what he is capable of and I don’t think it will be too long before we see him up for an Academy award.
This HD-DVD has some interesting extras, solid audio and visual quality and a tense and absorbing story, I certainly recommend it.