Harsh Times Review
By Shawn McKenzie 11/18/2006
Honorably discharged ex-Army ranger Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is a white guy who lives in South Central Los Angeles and wants to be a policeman for the LAPD. He needs the job so that he can bring his Mexican girlfriend Marta (Tammy Trull) to the United States to get her a visa and marry her, but the job would actually fit his psychological makeup, because he is still disturbed by nightmares of his experiences in the Gulf War. In the meantime, he hangs out with his equally unemployed best friend Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodriguez) and ironically breaks the law frequently. Mike is supposed to be out looking for a job to satisfy his live-in lawyer girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria; actually, I’m not sure if she is his girlfriend or his wife…it never specifically states her status.) Instead, he blows it off and dupes everyone around into pretending to call their answering machine and leaving messages pretending to be potential employers. Early in the movie, Jim finds out that the LAPD has turned him down, so he goes nuts and does several bad things, like getting in a fight with his ex-girlfriend Letty’s (Samantha Esteban) new boyfriend Flaco (Noel Gugliemi) and trying to sell a boosted gun to a guy he knows named Darrell (Terry Crews.) Mike goes along with him, and he appears to be amused by Jim’s antics…until he witnesses a guy get killed in front of them while Jim is trying to sell that same gun to this person. This disturbs Mike, but Jim is unfazed, which Mike finds odd. Jim gets some good news though…the Department of Homeland Security has called him for an interview. He is elated…until he realizes that the day’s consumption of marijuana will result in him failing a urine test. He attempts to hide his chemical makeup by injecting vinegar into his…well…manhood (ewww!) to deflect the results. DHS Agent Richards (J.K. Simmons) tells Jim that he failed the test, but that his ability to speak Spanish and his skills that he acquired during the war have made him the perfect candidate to fight drug lords. Unfortunately, he is assigned to fight the drug lords in Columbia…which would mean that he couldn’t marry Marta. He takes the job anyway, and he decides to celebrate with Mike and their mutual friend Toussant (Chaka Forman) by going to Mexico to party and see Marta for what could be the last time ever. Mike is nervous though…because he truly believes that Jim will crack any minute and hurt everyone around them.
Christian Bale is an actor who is destined to get an Oscar nomination someday. With Harsh Times, he once again shows how good he can be…but it also points out some limitations.
Actually…his only limitation in this movie is his accent. The Welsh actor has been believable in every role I have seen him in so far, but his South Central L.A. homeboy accent doesn’t fit. I realize that his character is a white boy living in the ‘hood, but he puts it on too thick. In the scenes where he is talking to his sweetie Marta and to the people at Homeland Security, he adopts a completely different accent.
Otherwise, you couldn’t find a better actor to play a pot-smoking psycho than Bale. Screenwriter David Ayer wrote and directed the movie (it’s actually his directorial debut.) Bale’s character is similar to Denzel Washington’s character in 2001’s Training Day (of which Ayer also wrote the script) in that they are both characters that start a slow burn from being merely corrupt to full-blown murderous. Except for the accent, I could believe Bale’s performance over Washington’s performance (no disrespect to Denzel, who I consider one of my favorite actors…but even Michael Chiklis’s Emmy-winning performance as Detective Vic Mackey on FX’s “The Shield” was better than Washington’s Oscar-winning performance.)
I certainly don’t want to leave out Rodriguez. Ever since leaving his Emmy-nominated role on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” I’ve been hoping to see more of him in movies. He has been regulated lately to supporting roles in ensemble movies, like this year’s Poseidon and Lady in the Water, but this is the first role of significance for him since becoming a prominent actor on “SFU.” He is very good here, and he has great chemistry with Bale. I wish that I could say the thing about Longoria though. I realize that she is trying hard to become a movie star so that she will have a career following the eventual end of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” but taking a role so small isn’t going to up her profile.
I have to mention one scene that will make you bust a gut when you see it. When Jim attempts to pass a polygraph test for his job at Homeland Security, the polygraph expert (Barry Colvert) says something to Jim that was the funniest thing in the movie (this is a family site, so I won’t repeat it…but believe me, it is hilarious.)
I don’t think that Harsh Times will be the movie that will earn Bale that Oscar nomination, but trust me…that nomination will come. Between his great performance in this movie and The Prestige, he is definitely on the radar (if he wasn’t already on it.)
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