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  Harsh Times War Hero To Street Zero
Year: 2005
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodríguez, Eva Longoria, Chaka Forman, Tammy Trull, J.K. Simmons, Michael Monks, Samantha Esteban, Tania Verafield, Noel Gugliemi, Adriana Millan, Geovanny Corvera, Cesar Garcia, Terry Crews, Emilio Rivera, Sonia Iris Lozada
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is an Iraq war veteran back from his tour of duty on an honourable discharge after a harrowing incident on the battlefield and now trying to fit in with civilian life. He jumps back and forth from his home in Los Angeles across the border to a town in Mexico where he spends time with Marta (Tammy Trull), and they love each other to the extent that he wishes to marry her and bring her to the States with him. But war has not entirely left Jim behind, and he still suffers traumatic nightmares about his experiences; could it be that he is too psychologically messed up to be successful in his new life?

The writer and director of Harsh Times, David Ayer, reputedly put up a lot of his own money to make it, a contrast to his script for Training Day which once it had Denzel Washington on board must have seemed like a breeze in comparison. Here, however, was a film which took place in a similar area and under similar pressure for the characters, but had a less obvious bad guy in Jim, who may not act particularly honorably, but is sketched in with such skill by Ayer and Bale that we can understand why he is the way he is, and know that nothing is going to end well for him. If that makes the film predictable, it also develops a sense of encroaching doom that we are well aware is unavoidable.

You know how in cartoons, and in some films and well, where the main character is weighing up a moral decision and he has a little angel and a little devil appear on each shoulder to offer him advice? In Harsh Times that character is Jim's childhood friend Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodríguez), and Jim is the devil coaxing him into taking the path of wickedness. Needing an angelic counterpart to that, Mike also has his wife Sylvia (Eva Longoria) who makes it plain she's not going to stay with him much longer unless he mends his ways, cuts out the drink and drugs, and gets a job. But Jim is simply too persuasive, or he is until it is too late for him, though the final shot indicates that Mike may still redeem himself even if he has been scared into it.

So Mike could easily have been the protagonist instead of his best friend, but really the double act of Bale and Rodríguez are good enough together that they might as well be judged in the same light as two halves of one person, with Mike the man who did not go to war and has a chance at getting somewhere in life, and Jim the man whose combat exepriences have pretty much ruined his opportunities. He desperately wants that job with the LAPD, but they turn him down - he thinks it's because he's white, but we can see by his unhinged and furious reaction it is because his psychological profile would never have allowed someone like him to join the police force. When he does get a job halfway through, we worry about why he has been chosen.

Especially as that job is to send him to Colombia and possible shady dealings with keeping American interests alive with Homeland Security there. If there is a villain in this film it is the authorities who destroyed Jim's personality in the first place, so yes, this is another anti-war movie at heart, but Ayer does not labour his points and prefers to keep the narrative in a loose, almost random style until the end where we acknowledge there isn't another way it could have ended up. Ayer based a lot of this on his real life growing up in the district depicted, but you cannot tell if he is genuinely angry about these wasted lives or lamenting in sorrow; it could be both. The most dismaying aspect is probably the fact that the corrupted Jim, with the gangster lifestyle he is attracted to signalling his recklessness, fits right in with those other criminal types they encounter, the more violent ones most notably. Music by Graeme Revell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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