Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harsh Times

I watched Harsh Times last night. Luckily I didn't read any of the reviews before settling on this film because I probably would not have watched it. Reading the synopsis for this film, I was iffy about whether I would enjoy it or not. Christian Bale sold me and did not disappoint. However, the synopsis is misleading and does not really convey the concept of this film adequately.

Harsh Times advertised itself as a movie about a Gulf War veteran returning to LA, where he wreaks havoc on his neighborhood while binging on drugs. The drugs were more of a side story here. The Gulf War Veteran, Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is exorcising his personal demons, making this film more about a severe case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) than it was about drugs. The film begins with Davis in Iraq (or Afghanistan) engaging in battle. Davis awakes in his in Mexico where he realizes he was having a flashback. He kisses his Mexican Bride-to-be goodbye and heads back across the border to Los Angeles. Davis meets up with his childhood friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) to go job hunting. It is evident immediately that Mike's wife Sylvia (Eva Longoria Parker) does not like Davis. Not that Davis cares what other people think...he seems to thrive on conflict.

Davis and Mike get sidetracked from their job hunting mission and end up drinking and smoking pot (hardly the drug binge I had imagined...I was thinking heroine or coke). Davis displays behavior that readily indicates he has issues. His over-the-top actions make it clear why he failed to pass LAPD's Psychological Battery, leading to his dismissal from the hiring process. Instead, Davis ends up getting a call from Homeland Security who wants to hire him to engage in special operations in Columbia. Davis gets busted for having a dirty urinalysis and is confronted but offered a job anyway. However, he must make a choice regarding his Mexican a foreign marriage at this point could jeapordize his security clearance. One thing that is evident throughout this film is that Davis should not be toting a gun. You can feel the pressure mounting and wonder when he is going to snap. As the movie winds tighter and tighter the suspense builds to an excellent crescendo all the way up to the final minutes of the film.

I was impressed by the writing in this film. One thing that was evident was the credibility. I was starting to question a lot of the writing because they were going a direction I knew could not stand up. Well it didn't. For instance, before taking the urinalysis, Davis drinks a bottle of vinegar claiming it shuts down the kidneys. It doesn't. However, when I discovered that Davis failed the urinalysis it lent believability where I was starting to have questions. The characters were well developed and interacted plausibly. The plot is a bit harder to accept but not beyond the realm of possibility. I suspended my speculation a bit regarding the plot, in order to enjoy the story. The story was fresh with interesting story-lines. I cared about the characters, which included Davis, who would have been easy to dislike. The Writer/Director (David Ayer) did an excellent job of giving Davis facets to his personality that connected with the audience creating a degree of empathy along side disapproval.

The casting was exceptional. The characters in Harsh Times were brought to life by a professional cast that, as a whole, were superb. Christian Bale provided the edginess and charm to make Davis a likable yet detestable character. That's not an easy task. I found myself identifying with his character at times and really wanted him to succeed. That was a combination of strong writing and flawless acting. Davis' sidekick Mike was interesting. Rodriguez gave Mike an affability that made his bad decisions tolerable. This film had a heavily latin influence, which I don't feel was overplayed. Although I have had exposure to the latin community I am far from an expert. However, I did not sense that the major characters slipped into stereotypes. Eva Longoria Parker was interesting. Although she had a limited role, her character created conflict and provided some depth to the story. Eva provided a strong performance in her limited role. I first became a fan of JK Simmons when he was a regular on the HBO series Oz. Simmons played a recruitment officer (Agent Richards) for Homeland Security. I just enjoyed seeing Simmons in this film, even if it was nearly cameo. His character had a bureaucratic way about him that reminded me of people I know. I liked him in this role. The cast members took a strong script and easily conveyed the themes to create suspense and believability.

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