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HARSH TIMES – Graeme Revell

November 10, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

At one point in “Harsh Times”, one character tells another, “You look like a turd dressed up in a fancy suit”. If you can accept the metaphor of a performance by Christian Bale being the equivalent of a fancy suit, then the same statement can be applied to this movie. It’s second-rate, warmed-over, run-of-the-mill material. It sure is galvanizing, though.

Bale plays Jim Davis, a troubled ex-Army Ranger looking to settle down. He’s applied for a job with the LAPD, has a lover in Mexico waiting to be taken across the border, and despite a taste for the wild side of life, he’s genuinely interested in making a decent life for himself. So is his best friend Mike (Freddie Rodriguez), who has been mooching off his wife’s (Eva Longoria) money for years. So, they go off job-hunting together, but things don’t work out so well for Jim. He’s rejected for psychological reasons, which simply sends him into an even deeper mental meltdown. Jim’s commanding personality is able to talk Mike into getting into a bit of trouble (ala “Training Day”), as they drive around the town having drug-fueled conversations (ala “Training Day”) while making various pit stops with various men, women, friends, and foes (ala “Training Day”). The movie is a rather predictable downward spiral that will ultimately end in a big shootout (ala “Training Day”).

You may have notice my subtle references to the Denzel Washington vehicle “Training Day” in the above paragraph. The movie is eerily similar in a lot of ways, which is explained by the fact that “Harsh Times” writer/director David Ayer also wrote “Training Day”, in addition to “S.W.A.T.”, “Dark Blue”, “U-571”, and “Fast and the Furious”. Without Bale’s remarkable lead performance, this would easily be the straight-to-video “Training Day 2: Training Daze”. Ayer’s directorial debut offers nothing we haven’t seen in a million other films about life on the street, and his profanity-laced screenplay could use about 200 less “homeys” and “dawgs”.

As for that performance I mentioned… Bale manages to take a poorly-drawn character and gives him a completely convincing, multi-layered portrayal. He switches modes from in-control job seeker to drugged-out homey to mentally troubled psychopath with ease, sometimes jumping from one to the other within the same scene. Between “American Psycho”, “Batman Begins”, “The Machinist”, “The Prestige”, and now this film, it’s no wonder some are saying there’s nothing Bale can’t do. I admire his commitment as an actor, it’s evident that he deeply immerses himself in every role, working from the inside out. Meanwhile, Freddie Rodriguez is merely adequate, while Eva Longoria is slightly better here than she was in “The Sentinel”.

The score by Graeme Revell is predictably underwhelming, though it does have it’s redeeming points. There doesn’t seem to be very much of it, but what’s there is mostly comprised of moderately interesting Thomas Newman jangling and barely-there electronic ambiance. To his credit, Revell provides a very attractive minor-key piano theme that plays over the film’s final scene and end credits. It would make a nice compilation piece. Meanwhile, the film’s third-act trip to Mexico features a lot of Hispanic source cues, and the rest of the film primarily features various hip-hop selections, none of them used to any particularly memorable effect. The soundtrack album, on Lakeshore Records, is similarly dedicated mainly to R&B, rap and hip-hop songs by artists such as MC Breed, Duice and Senor Soul, although the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” has always been a great song. Revell’s contribution is condensed into an 8-minute “Harsh Score Medley”, which covers all the bases.

Bale’s fans should give “Harsh Times” a look for his performance once it hits DVD. The movie isn’t a complete waste, it is reasonably engaging for most of it’s running time, and despite handing us over familiar material, presents things in a competent manner. Those curious will find enough items here to keep “Harsh Times” from being a waste of time. All others should simply watch “Training Day” and “Taxi Driver”, blend them together, dilute them, and imagine what the results would be like.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Ain’t No Future in Yo’ Frontin’ (performed by MC Breed) (4:00)
  • Dazzey Duks (performed by Duice) (4:00)
  • Play At Your Own Risk (performed by Planet Patrol) (7:50)
  • Party’s Just Begun (performed by Freestyle) (5:47)
  • Change on Me (performed by Cynthia) (4:16)
  • Reach Out, I’ll Be There (performed by The Four Tops) (2:59)
  • Don’t Lay Your Funky Trip on Me (performed by Senor Soul) (3:28)
  • Murio La Flor (performed by Los Ángeles Negros) (3:23)
  • Return of the Tres (performed by Delinquent Habits) (4:14)
  • Harsh Opening (performed by DJ Muggs) (2:27)
  • Harsh Score Medley (8:41)

Lakeshore Records LKS-338612(2006)

Running Time: 50 minutes 59 seconds

Music composed by Graeme Revell. Featured musical soloists Dan Soulsby and < B>Chris Koller. Recorded and mixed by Mark Curry. Edited by Ashley Revell. Score produced by Graeme Revell.

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