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Laramie Movie Scope: Harsh Times

Fearsome man heads toward self-destruction

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 17, 2006 -- In the film “Harsh Times,” Gulf War veteran Jim Davis (played by Christian Bale of “Batman Begins”) may be the most aggressively self-destructive character I've seen since Johnny Boy Civello in “Mean Streets.” This is a film about a man's inexorable spiral into madness and death. While it is modestly compelling, it is not a pretty sight. Davis not only has a death wish, but seems determined to drag all of his friends down with him.

Davis starts out the film a lot more normal. He's trying to get a job in Los Angeles as a policeman, but fails the psychology test. Depressed, he goes on a drinking and drug binge, along with his longtime pal Mike Alonzo (played by Freddy Rodríguez of “Poseidon”). Mike is trying to stay clean and get a job, but his friendship with Davis is ruining his chances. Mike's wife, Sylvia (Eva Longoria of “The Sentinel”) sees the madness in Davis that others overlook. She worries that her husband's friendship with Davis will get him killed. She is right to worry.

Aside from a dream sequence and a few flashbacks, we really don't get far inside Davis' head, except to find out that he killed innocent people in Iraq and those memories are gradually destroying him. Davis' love for his Mexican sweetheart, Marta (Tammy Trull of “Havoc”), and her love of him is the only thing keeping him sane. In a climactic scene, his love for her and his desire to take a drug war (which involves more killing) job with the government come into conflict with explosive results. This is the conflict between his desire for love and his desire to kill. Davis is essentially confronted with a choice between life and death. The same choice is confronted by Davis' companions on the trip to Mexico.

While the film has its share of high drama and tension, it is a bit disappointing that we never really get below the surface of Jim Davis. The script never really lets us know what makes Davis tick, powerful though Bale's performance is. He remains an enigma right up to the end of the film. Why is he so self-destructive? If he really loves Marta, why does he choose to leave her? If he is heading to Columbia, why not ship Marta down to Columbia so he can be with her? Why not stay in Mexico? What is so great about the job of killing Columbians? The film raises these questions, but gives no answers. In the end, this film just wore me out. It could have been more depressing, but it was depressing enough to make me feel down by the time it was over. There are a lot more emotional lows in the movie than there are highs. The performances were good and so was the direction by David Ayer. This film is a bit reminiscent of Davis' fine film “Training Day.” Emotionally, however, “Harsh Times” seemed a little bit too much of a one-note movie. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics, theater tickets and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)