Harsh Times

Harsh Times

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Back on civvy street after serving in Afghanistan, Jim is having a hard time adjusting, but he's determined to make something of his life. He has a longtime girlfriend whom he plans to marry, a good set of employment skills and a driving ambition to work as a police officer. But over the course of a few days in Los Angeles, Jim's life falls to pieces.

Harsh Times is at first a difficult film to get close to, with a meandering narrative and characters whose contempt for other people sometimes extends to themselves - but over the course of this cleverly woven story the viewer is drawn in until it's impossible to let go. Christian Bale's performance as Jim, at times terrifyingly violent but so human and so charismatic that he still attracts devotion from others, is a career best, and he's given ample support from Freddy RodrÃ-guez as his best friend Mike.

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As Marta, the Mexican peasant who has captured Jim's heart, Tammy Trull is a delight, so vivacious and charming that, despite her limited screentime, it's easy to see why she has had such a powerful effect on him. It's a power of which he is desperately afraid, refusing to be drawn into anyone else's concerns as he struggles to control his own destiny. His reaction to setbacks is to lose himself in drink, drugs, and the aggressive behaviour which is central to his masculine identity. Keenly intelligent and capable, he is able to manage everything except his own emotions, and underlying those is a psychosis which could explode at any moment, endangering the lives of everyone around him.

The world in which Harsh Times is set is a world where violence, crime and the drugs which fuel it are commonplace, yet it's a world which has rules and codes of conduct carefully constructed to protect those who live within it. Jim's willingness to break even these rules is shocking to his friends, yet fascinates them in equal measure. The capable but gauche Mike keeps trying to discover his secret, to work out what it is that he went through in the war which has changed him so dramatically. His journey of discovery gives the film its heart, all the way up to its shocking end.

Few films get away with this kind of intensity; few films speak so convincingly about violence without losing sight of its impact on human lives. Harsh Times is something really special, and should not be missed.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A war veteran loses his mind in South Central LA.
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Read more Harsh Times reviews:

Anton Bitel ***1/2

Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Starring: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Tammy Trull, Adriana Millan

Year: 2005

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA

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