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Harsh Times
cast: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, and Eva Longoria

director: David Ayer

116 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Pathé DVD Region 2 retail
[released 30 April]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian R. Faulkner
Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is an ex-Army Ranger suffering from what appears to be Gulf War Syndrome and who, when his dream of joining the LAPD is shattered by a poor score on his psychological profiling test, begins - or rather, as Jim has already been established as a loose cannon, continues - a self-destructive spiral, slipping into a life of petty crime and drugs, whilst becoming more and more psychotic and unstable.

Jim's weak-willed best friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) is dragged along, against the wishes of his lawyer girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria), who seems to be the only character in the movie able to spot that Jim is seriously off the rails and a danger to those around him. All Sylvia wants is for Mike to get a job and, whilst supportive, she is rapidly becoming sick of Mike's excuses and fearful of Jim influence on her nice-guy boyfriend.

Harsh Times is an uneasy mix and I felt at times the story became almost as lost as its protagonist, Jim. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad film and it does have its moments, but it's definitely not a great film, regardless of it coming from the pen of David Ayer (writer of the far superior, albeit still flawed, Training Day).

For me, the overall tone of the piece was lacking and inconsistent. It felt routine and without flair, giving nothing new for my investment: Bale, whilst an excellent actor, was playing yet another psycho; Longoria's character was thin to the point of not being there; and the orange colour wash and grain effects only served to remind me of Steven Soderbergh's far superior Traffic (2000).

Maybe I am being too harsh on Harsh Times - it is, after all, David Ayer's directorial debut, but I expected more. A lot more: more from the actors, although not in terms of acting ability, as this is without doubt and it is only Bale's performance that saves the movie from dying in the first half, but in terms of originality; more from a writer and director; and certainly more from the story - the outcome of which was just too predictable from the get go.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, the DVD extras match the film's lack of delivery with only a single commentary from Ayers, a handful of deleted scenes and a trailer gallery, all of which are uninspired. In a word: disappointing.

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