Harsh Times Review: Dull and Uncreative
by Alex Billington
November 10, 2006
Harsh Times is the story about two friends, Jim (Christian Bale) and Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), who cruise the streets in Los Angeles while getting in trouble, smoking joints, drinking beer, and speaking like 16-year-olds. It lacks originality, it lacks creativity, and most of all it lacks a good script. It's a very bland and very long film that takes forever to build up into very brief moments of excitement before dropping back into childish mayhem. Harsh Times feels more like High Times: there is more marijuana smoking and "chilling" than there is violence.
Jim (Bale) formerly served in the military in Afghanistan, or as he calls it, "trash-can-a-stan." After his honorable discharge he has come back to his life in South Los Angeles and his good friend Mike (Rodriguez). Mike's girlfriend is Sylvia (Eva Longoria), who dislikes Jim and his reckless and wants Mike to get a job. Jim has a girlfriend in Mexico who he promises to eventually marry in order to get her a visa to come to the United States, and in the meantime he attempts to join the LAPD. After the LAPD rejects Jim, he and Mike set off to "party" and enjoy life as they know best while cruising the streets in what looks like an undercover police car.
In a film with two very identifiable characters like Jim and Mike, the key elements needed are a rigid definition of the mood and a pervasive level of intensity; I found neither of these in Harsh Times. Instead I sat through a dull and lengthy film that takes forever to build up to any moments of intensity, instead wasting time on the childish whims of these two friends. As deep as this story goes, there is nothing at all that helps build it, not even an accompanying soundtrack or exciting moments. The gritty South L.A. lifestyle for two nearly-broke unemployed friends is one of the only parts captured well.
Although the script is one of the worst I've seen in a while, Bale and Rodriguez handled it well, brightening up what otherwise would have been a disaster. It never builds up a flow like it should to reach the climatic moments. The lines are written and delivered in such an adolescent style that Jim and Mike seem like immature 16-year-olds. It takes nearly two hours to finally reach a thrilling scene, but at that point the viewer is so removed from the movie that the scene loses much of its potential.
There isn't much you'll get from Harsh Times beyond two hours of uncreative filmmaking. It does have a few scenes where the intensity steps up, and Bale and Rodriguez do give worthy performances. With an awful script and poor directing by first-time director David Ayer, Harsh Times does not demonstrate the innovative independent filmmaking I expected. For only a few moments almost two hours in you'll finally feel the adrenaline, but for the price of the ticket it's better to stay at home and have some beers yourself.