First off, let me start by saying that I have never been bothered to write a review on IMDb. Although a fan of the site, I skim read reviews, often not having the patience to read the long essays that over-excited people write. However, I feel it is my obligation to express my opinion on this movie because it is one of a short list of movies that has made an impact on me emotionally.
I honestly believe that Christian Bale's performance in this movie was truly outstanding. If Denzel Washington can be rewarded for best actor in Training Day then Bale deserves his just rewards for Harsh Times. His portrayal of Jim David, an ex-army ranger, is coated in layers of emotional complexity and psychological deterioration. His ability to transform from an honourable, courteous officer to a full blown psycho and then back to loving boyfriend and 'amigo' is truly terrifying.
Sharing much screen time with Bale is a relatively unknown Freddy Rodriquez. He seems to feed off Bale's character and forces the audience to feel sympathy for him as a childhood friend who can't abandon his crazy best friend. A cross between Benny Blanco (Carlito's Way) and Ethan Hawke's character in Training Day, Rodriquez shows his ability in mixing comedic moments up with emotional intensity and apathy. His friendship with Bale is so unpredictable that as an audience, you find yourself laughing with them at one moment and the next on the verge of tears.
David Ayer has created a dark, moody portrayal of South Central Los Angeles, very similar to that of Training Day. It's a bleak, bustling environment where the main characters encounter drug dealers, gang leaders, prostitutes etc. What I found interesting was the way Ayer introduced the beautiful barren Mexican landscape amongst the roughness of LA life. This was to show the personal crossroads Bale's character experiences. The choice whether to stay in Mexico and marry his girlfriend, or to satisfy his sadistic urge to kill and work for the drugs squad in Columbia.
It's frustrating that Harsh Times will not get the box office recognition it deserves. However, through word of mouth and DVD release, I am certain that this will become a sleeper classic, in the style of Shawshank Redemption. I feel that Christian Bale's performance is as mesmerising as De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or Edward Norton's character in American History X. His raw approach to the role makes for a startling but very rewarding experience.
Overall Verdict: A tour de force of a movie with fantastic performances, stylish direction and an after-taste which will stay with you for a very long time. Not since American History X has a movie affected me on such an emotional level. Christian Bale deserves more credit. Much more.....