Over the years I've watched many a film that by the end I have asked myself ' Why was this ever made? ' To be sure 90% of the films made in a year can probably be asked that question! But most films have a reason for their existence, from making a statement, as pure entertainment, to scare, inform, or what not. But once in a while a film comes along that doesn't seem to have a point or reason to it at all. I watched 2006's Harsh Times immediately after The Number 23, as they were both on late night telly here in NZ. Believe me after nearly 4 hours, in hindsight, there were better ways I could have spent that time!!
Harsh Times is a strange film. Strange in that it is superbly acted and yet seems to have no real point. It is purportedly a crime drama and yet it fails to feel like one. Even the title is strange because harsh times conotates just that, and yet nothing in the film felt like times were tough. I mean the two lead protagonists were out of work, but they both had prospects and things didn't look that grim. So where did the ' harsh times ' come in to it? For instance Christian Bale's character is an ex- Ranger who, even though rejected by the police force, has a good opportunity for employment with the FBI. The guy has real potential so why ' harsh times? '
To be sure he is slipping back into old habits and is suffering from PTSS, but he isn't totally down and out yet. The problem is that he seems to want to be. He hooks up with his pal played by Freddy Rodriquez of Six Feet Under fameand the two go on a bit of a bender instead of looking for work. Over the length of the film Bale's character's PTSS grows worse and he completely loses control of himself, to the point where even his mates don't want to be near him. The problem is that his self destruction finally pulls them down to their's as well.
For me the major problem with the film is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. At first it flirts with trying to be a crime drama, and yet in all reality it is more about a couple of dudes who smoke a bit of pot and get up to a few stupid antics. But crime drama per se? No way. Boyz in the Hood it is trying to be but Boyz in the Hood it isn't. Then it flirts with trying to be about post traumatic stress syndrome as we see its impact on Bale's character and what happens when it is left unchecked. Harsh Times then is a film trying to be two things and fails at both of them.
And that is what leads to the film feeling strange. It sort of drifts along without engaging the viewer. I found myself scratching my head at it all and came close to turning it off and going to bed. But I persevered because it surely surely had to go somewhere, let alone have a point. Suffice to say the film stuttered to its conclusion and left me feeling totally unsatisfied.
All of which is a shame, because even though it is a film that has no real direction or point, it has two fine performances in it. Both Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriquez are superb, which is surprising considering the strange wandering script. Normally a bad script sees actors unable to get anything from it, and yet both Bale and Rodriquez manage to somehow. The pity is that ultimately it was all for nothing because Harsh Times was a straight to DVD release where their respective performances could hardly be expected to be seen. Bale's performance has been praised by critics and he is in fine form. But ultimately his performance is wasted because the rest of the film is so forgettable.
The director is David Ayer who directed such films as Street Kings, and wrote screenplays for The Fast and Furious, U-571, which aren't exactly quality films. And yet he wrote the script for the Oscar winning Training Day. But overall I think Ayer pretty average and it shows in this muddle of a film. Incredibly IMDB has this with 7/10! I find that laughable because the film is a mess, doesn't go anywhere and feels completely pointless as it tries to be two things and fails at both. I'm hard pressed to give it anymore than 4/10 simply because Harsh Times is a strange, unengaging film, that has two outstanding performances going for it but little else.