Harsh Times is not the best of times. It’s not the worst of times either but it’s probably not worth your hard earned dollar (depending on your tastes of course). It’s a movie that was delayed for all the right reasons, a low budget that lives up to its budget, a near miss on the quest for average. The end result of this is now I’m angry. Christian Bale has finally made a movie I didn’t love.
Bale plays an aimless psychotic (and idiotic) former Army Ranger who’s been discharged. He hooks up with an old friend of his while he’s looking for a job and they do their best to get themselves killed on the streets of Los Angeles. Much of the movie is spent driving around drinking 40-ouncers attempting to look tough. Nothing is off limits to these guys, they do drugs, rob folks, brandish weapons, and drink quite heavily while operating a motor vehicle. Bale does okay with the psychotic portion of the role but completely loses all cred with the “street tough” theme. Bale plays a bilingual fella who seems to have grown up immersed in the Latino community but the plot doesn’t move and he doesn’t seem like he’s of that world. Perhaps more backstory was needed? I’m not sure, but I had a hard time with it.
So that’s the first real problem, Bale sounds completely fake saying things like “Hey Homey, you want to score some bud?” and “We’re all dogs, I got your back!” Okay, he doesn’t say the second one, but it’s said to him and that’s bad enough. Batman, you in there pal? It comes off as really forced and you can’t force street cred. Besides, even hard core crips don’t use this much slang. It was like the screenwriter watched “Yo Momma” on MTV 42 times in a row and became warped. I’m not of the opinion that Batman Begins means Bale is typecast but he doesn’t play stupid guys well and this guy is pretty stupid. For the record, the “harsh” in Harsh Times seems to reference a semi-quality marijuana experience the guys have.
Another problem is the sheer logic of it all. The duo (Bale and friend) do drugs in the car, drink, carry weapons, and they seemingly do this with no fear. I grant you could get away with this for a day, or a couple days, but it seems like they’ve been doing this forever and haven’t been put in prison. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any industrial nation; these dudes would be serving time with how hard they flout the law. Overall I would have been okay with the logic gap if they’d been more believable as friends or hard asses but that element just isn’t there.
That said, some people will undoubtedly like the movie. It has a fairly redemptive ending and I’m guessing some people will see all the slang and tough talk as a valid attempt to relate and look past the silliness of it all. If you’re into some violence and a little bit of suspense on a Friday night this could fill the bill. Sadly, it just doesn’t fill the bill as a film I can recommend to the world at large, nor does it come off as remotely effective in my book. It might have been better off to stay delayed.