Harsh Times (2005) is a David Ayer’s (Director / Writer) movie about the friendship of Jim Luther Davis (Christian Bale) and Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodríguez) and is set in South Central Los Angeles.
Harsh Times is described as action / crime / drama, but these definitions do not accurately reflect the nature of the movie. Genuinely, I don’t know what to think of this movie. It doesn’t seem suitable to rate it as good or bad because it is a different kind of film. For want of a better word, the movie was abstract. One go as far as calling it unconventional, but this movies is definitely an example of talented, convincing and strong acting.
Harsh Times is a perfect example of a movie that is both strange and compelling. It is difficult to know if the movie had any agenda or any message to deliver to the audience. At best, it was a powerful story of one man’s demise and destruction due to circumstances out of his control. At worst, it was a dull and boring portrayal of Jim’s life and personality – an attempt to showcase his life story by showing a (random) period in his life that lacked depth and explanation.
Despite how unclear this movie was, I do not regret watching it. Harsh Times is different and whether that is good or bad, I don’t know. However, the duo of Freddy Rodríguez and Christian Bale was superb. The pair covered a wide range of emotions in the duration of the film and created two 3-dimensional characters with their individual back-stories and personalities. Their on-screen chemistry is a reason alone to watch this movie. I never had any doubts Christian Bale’s talent (watch The Flowers of War) and, here again, Bale demonstrates his skill by personifying the character that is truly messed up.
Harsh Times is an emotional film, but rather than sending a viewer on a roller-coaster of emotions, it chooses to ‘suffocate’ the viewer by sucking out all joy from life. This movie will not coerce the viewer into tears but will do its best to relate the feelings of depression, futility, hopelessness and despair to the viewer. Through the acting of Christian Bale, the movie transfers the suffering of Jim to the viewer, trapping both in the same mental prison, with no means of escaping. The movie is more of futility than sadness.
The film explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, relationships, poverty, crime, but one of the key themes in this movie is mental health. Christian Bale did an excellent job portraying his character’s inner struggles and I think he did an extraordinary job of portraying someone (a soldier, to be exact) suffering from various mental disorders.
It is a heavy movie not suitable for a casual watching, but one you should definitely see.
Some important points I wanted to mention (SPOILERS):
This movie explores a particular (and short) period in Jim’s life, rejecting to show or explain his (and other characters’ past). His military background is unexplored, we only know he was a good soldier but fighting ‘messed him up’; we are only left to guess how Mike and Jim became best friends; we are offered glimpses into why Sylvia (Eva Longoria, who, by the way, too put in a solid performance) hates Jim; the viewer is not showed how and why Jim and Marta (Tammy Trull) met. The director leaves a lot of questions unanswered and puts the burden on the viewer to explain why Jim (and other characters) are the way they are.
Tammy Trull did not have much screen time but her portrayal of Marta was lively.
Jim’s normal demeanor and appearance when he is being interviewed for police/military posts but his train-wreck-like behaviour when with his friends – shows his military past but at the cost of his mental sanity and eventually death.
It seemed like all male characters were reckless, over-masculine, careless and foolish. Female characters, on the other hands, portrayed strength, though, logic and acted as voice of reason.
The scenes in the U.S.A. were full of grey, dark colours whereas the scenes in Mexico were full of colour and beauty, highlighting the contrast between the two possible lives Jim could have had.