Year Released: 2006
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 120 minutes
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That combat has deleterious effects on those who fight on the front lines is hardly breaking news. And while post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers didn’t really come into common knowledge until after the Vietnam War, its effects have been documented in combatants since the turn of the 20th century to the present day.
Jim Davis (Christian Bale) could tell you a thing or two about PTSD. He still has nightmares about his time as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq, after all, where he and his squad conducted brutally efficient assaults on the enemy. These days, Jim wakes up more often than not in a cold sweat, jarred out of sleep by his memories.
Even so, things are looking up. Jim is applying to be an LAPD officer, a task for which the thuggish and determined young man would seem well suited. A hard-drinking skirt-chasing kind of guy, Jim is nonetheless informed he’s been dropped from the program. Understandably upset, he steals some weed from a street dealer and embarks on a day-long bender with his best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez). Mike’s supposed to be looking for a job, at the behest of his girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria), but is unable to resist Jim’s textbook peer pressure. The next day, after an evening of spirited mayhem, Jim discovers he’s landed an interview with the Department of Homeland Security. A good deal of time is spent on that process, as well as the possible repercussions his future assignment will have on his plans to bring his Mexican fiancée Gracie (Sonia Lozada) across the border.
Commercials for “Harsh Times” deceptively portray the picture as an action movie, touting the fact that it was scripted by “Training Day’s” David Ayer. There are definite similarities between the two; both movies are set in the underbelly of Los Angeles, and both Jim and “Training Day’s” Alonzo Harris are intense, amoral protagonists. Jim is somewhat more sympathetic, as allusions are made to the fact that he was a pretty easygoing fellow before joining the military, but the guy is still a major league prick. This leads one to ask, if his innate asshole tendencies were such an apparent benefit with the Rangers, why did he leave in the first place?
What few action pieces there are come with realistic suddenness and jolting violence. Most of the movie, however, depicts Jim either going through the testing for his DHS job or dicking around with Mike. These latter scenes are slowly paced enough that they’re reminiscent of nothing so much as watching a particularly boring friend playing GTA: San Andreas. Bale is admirably intense, and Ayer deserves credit for making a mainstream movie that highlights the generally unpleasant realities of human nature, but as a character study it lacks characterization, and it’s too predictable to be an effective cautionary tale. Give “Harsh Times” an “E” for effort, but not much else.
Posted on November 12, 2006 in Reviews by Pete Vonder Haar
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