Harsh Times DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

An interesting movie that shows the beautifully, complex commingling of different cultures.
  • OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
An interesting movie that shows the beautifully, complex commingling of different cultures.
THE BAD
I wish I could have known a little more about Christian Bale's character.
THE FEATURE
David Ayer, the writer of Training Day, courts semi-familiar territory in his directing debut Harsh Times. This film follows Jim (Christian Bale) and Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) as two long time friends who are driving around looking for employment in Los Angeles. At least that's what they should be doing. Jim is an Iraq veteran who wants to be a police officer, while Mike wants to get a job to please his lawyer girlfriend Sylvia (Eva Langoria). Armed with resumes these two are easily drawn to distraction, and they spend their time drinking, smoking pot and placing fake calls to Mike's answering machine so that Sylvia will think Mike has some job prospects.

Pretty early into the movie it becomes clear that Jim is tightly wound and about 30 minutes later it's pretty clear that he is completely crazy. He eventually procures a job with Homeland Security doing covert things in Columbia that I am sure happen but aren't written about. Mike meanwhile eventually realizes just how crazy his friend is, especially when Jim finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant. All the characters in this film seem caught between the worlds of the street and walking the straight and narrow. They seem to deceive themselves by thinking that if they can get jobs, then they have solved all their problems, however they never address what their real problems are.

Ultimately, Harsh Times is a one of the more interesting films to have come out on DVD thus far in 2007.
THE EXTRAS
Deleted Scenes

They have put 7 deleted scenes on this DVD. Some of the titles are "Getaway After the Fight" and "Jim, the Bad Influence." Aside from the color looking a bit weird in these scenes, I thought they were some of the best supplemental features I have ever seen. They play well, they kept up the action and themes of the movie, and I also thought they illuminated a little more about the characters. I cannot say for sure, but I am thinking that these scenes were deleted because movie is already 116 minutes.

Commentary Track

Director/Writer David Ayer does a good job of taking is through this film. He talks about how he wrote this screenplay back in 1996 after writing Training Day, how the story is a study of friendship, and how sometimes that bond can lead you down different roads. He then goes on to explain how Harsh Times was shot in his old neighborhood and he even points out various areas. At times he talks a bit to much in screenwriting terms but overall he keeps this track interesting by keeping things personal.
THE VIDEO
Widescreen Version. Presented in a "Matted" widescreen format preserving the aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. My only complaint about the way this movie looks is the effects shots with bullets toward the very end of the movie. The don't look bad just unnecessary. This movie is told with a fast paced, hard hitting, pounding style. It moves really nicely and it keeps you within the reality of the characters and their surroundings. To suddenly throw effects shots in at the very end really sort of left me scratching my head.
THE AUDIO
Dolby Digital. Close Captioned. There were a few times I had to put the subtitles on simply because these actors talked so quickly, and there's so much dialogue in this film, that I had a little trouble keeping up. Aside from those random moments, the audio on this DVD was superb. I felt that it drew me into the film while at the same time it didn't go to work on me in such an overt way that I knew that that's what was happening.
THE PACKAGE
Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez are shown on this front cover. I think they should have gone with the original one sheet which just showed Bale in a white tank top and it said Harsh Times in Old English lettering. The back serves up a small description of what this movie is about, it displays some images from the film, a Special Features listing, a cast list and system specs. I am hoping this movie does well enough to warrant a Special Edition DVD release. This one is fine but I would like to know a little more about the backstorys of Jim and Mike.
THE FINAL WORD
What I loved about this movie was the way culture is merged. Christian Bale is a poster boy for the average white man. Yet, the character of Jim is infused with the Latino culture of his surroundings. He speaks with a certain Latin inflection when he's around Mike, but when he's among Federal Agents he talks almost like a robot. He speaks Spanish, he listens to Mexican music, his girlfriend is Mexican, and it seems like he'd rather stay in Mexico than go off and kill people in Columbia. Mike is the opposite in that he just wants to get by. He doesn't seem to have nearly the reverence for Latino culture that Jim does, but they both share the same plight of being caught between two worlds.

Filled with lively dialogue scenes, poignant statement about our government, the California job market and society at large, Harsh Times is one of those films that is destined to take on a cult status and be the subject of discussions many years from now.

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