Bleak as its South Central Los Angeles setting, Harsh Times
is like a suicidal vortex swallowing men who ought to know better but can't stop their self-destruction. Christian Bale stars as Jim Davis, a stressed-out, former Army Ranger who becomes a very bad influence on his weak-willed buddy, Mike Alvarez (Freddy Rodriguez of Six Feet Under
). Together the two meander through streets at night, getting drunk and stoned, finding trouble for its own sake and inviting danger as a ritual of machismo bonding. Mike's wife, Sylvia (Eva Longoria), a lawyer whom Mike, working as a telemarketer, put through school, is repelled by Jim and watches in pain as her spouse chooses a downward spiral over renewal and redemption with her. When Jim's application to join the L.A. police is turned down, he leads Mike into pure anarchy. An impractical change of fortune doesn't help any, and first-time director David Ayer, who wrote the screenplay for Harsh Times
years before his script for Training Day
, goes to some lengths, dramatically and visually, to convey Jim's unhinged condition. The dreariness of it all, and a sense that Bale has constructed--but not exactly lived in--another in his gallery of lost, misfit souls, makes it hard to connect with this film. Still, it is hard to turn away from these desperate and dangerous characters. --Tom Keogh
Crime drama starring Christian Bale. Jim Davis (Bale) is an ex-Army Ranger who finds himself slipping back into his old life of petty crime after a job offer from the LAPD evaporates. His best friend (Freddy Rodriguez) is pressured by his girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Longoria) to find a job, but Jim is more interested in hanging out and making cash from small heists, while trying to get a law enforcement job so he can marry his Mexican girlfriend.