Saturday, November 11, 2006
Movie Review: Harsh Times
It's like waiting (with popcorn and a soft drink) for a train wreck that you know is coming. (And waiting...and waiting....)
The experience of watching Harsh Times, the new film by writer/director David Ayer, is a bit like waiting (with popcorn and a soft drink) for a train wreck that you know is coming. (And waiting . . . and waiting . . . .)
What contributes to the building tension and unease - of which there is plenty - is that you don't know where or when the train wreck is going to occur - or whether there will be incidental wheels coming off prior to the big event, as opposed to a single epic conflagration to bring about an end to the wastrel deeds of the intensely self-destructive main character, Jim Davis, played by Christian Bale.
Yes, boys and girls, it's another installment of the Christian Bale show, and as viewers of his previous edgy and ultra-immersive roles (American Psycho, The Machinist - yes, even Batman Begins) will tell you, that's really all you need to know about the film. Script? Direction? Cinematography? Screw 'em. If Bale's in front of the camera, it's going to be interesting viewing, and he's not going to look or act the way he did in any prior role.
In this outing, Bale shrugs into a new suit - literally and figuratively - and wears it as if a Savile Row master tailor had made him an object lesson. His persona is pure southern California Latino; although born a white dude, he's grown up in East Los Angeles among the homies, dealers and gang bangers - many of whom end up as his friends . . . and enemies. Jim Davis speaks Spanish with native fluency, right down to the homeboy patois of the region; and with bulging biceps covered in tats, he folds in and out of various street scenarios like a tortilla slick with fresh-churned butter.
Jim's best buddy, Mike (played by Freddy Rodriguez) is a genuine East L.A. Latino, and we get the impression that it's through his association with Mike that Jim has achieved complete integration into the subculture. But Mike doesn't share one key experience with Jim: U.S. Army Ranger special ops wetwork in "Trashcanistan," as Jim refers to the region. Seems Jim still has nightmares about it. His ruthlessness in that theater served so well as a survival trait that he's brought a lot of the same 'tude back with him from overseas - unfortunately for his friends . . . and enemies.
When we pick up the action, Jim has just been kicked out of the training program for the LAPD - why, he's not immediately sure, but later (when he begins the screening process for a Homeland Security position) he discovers it's due to his psych profile. Go figure. Here's a guy whose advice to his friend, Mike, when dealing with altercations, is "you point, shoot: POP! POP!, move on." Just what LAPD needs, I'm thinking.
Mike, on the other hand, is job hunting (or at least making a show of job hunting) to placate his live-in girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria, who actually has less screen time than in a typical episode of Desperate Housewives. And shows less skin, just for the record). His daily job hunting excursions actually form an excuse for him and Jim to drive around the city drinking one beer after another, occasionally boosting weed from unwary street dealers and generally getting wasted amid episodes of mild-mannered mayhem. Eventually, the mayhem becomes less mild-mannered. Can you hear that train a'comin'?
There's a sub-plot involving Marta, Jim's Mexican girlfriend/fiancée (played by the stunningly beautiful, doe-eyed Tammy Trull: think Penelope Cruz without the ego), and his plan for marrying her and immigrating her across the border. For the second week in a row (see: Babel), this reviewer was treated to a voyage into sub-Rio Grande Peckinpahville where the residents really know how to par-tay with a capital TAY.
I should mention that Harsh Times is not permeated with violence in the way that a Van Damme film (or, yes, even a Peckinpah film) might be; rather, it's punctuated by violent episodes which serve as wakeup calls to the characters for the effects of their ill-advised behavior. (Or at least they MIGHT serve as such, if the characters weren't stoned out of their heads on boosted weed and cheap beer.) There's a big dose of karma as a thematic element, and in point of fact this film would make excellent "scared straight" material for parents to use on their wayward juvie homeboys/girls. Because - have I mentioned this? - train wrecks can be mighty nasty events.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE A BADASS WHEN:
Lead agents of the Department of Homeland Security demur from shaking your hand after witnessing the results of your special ops field work.
HOW TO PASS A URINALISIS TEST, EVEN AFTER SMOKING EPIC QUANTITIES OF WEED THE DAY BEFORE:
First, take a turkey baster. Fill it with vinegar. Then, insert the tip of the baster into your . . . (NAH, just skip that job and go on to the next thing.)
SHADES OF SCARFACE:
Jim and Mike, drinking (yet more) beer on the tranquil shore of a Mexican lake, wax poetic about the important things in life: "Money, drugs, bitches, respect . . . "
This story was written by a member of the TexasGigs community.