Harsh Times



Though his edge was dulled a bit as Batman, Christian Bale's latest turn as an ex-soldier living on the razor's edge of sanity gives him all the room he needs to flex his talent. It's a showy performance that overpowers all else in the directorial debut from screenwriter David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T.). This erratic, if not vibrant, tale of bad boys and mean streets feels a like a rehash of Ayer's Training Day, as it plays with his pet themes of loyalty, shifting morality and creeping violence.

Bale's Jim Davis is a powder keg in search of a fuse. After a tour of dark duty as an elite Army Ranger in Afghanistan, he's back in his old Los Angeles stomping grounds. Anything but adjusted, Jim suffers post-traumatic nightmares and is itching to vent his residual hostility. So he dons a sharp suit and looks for police work. Along on the job hunt is his lifelong pal Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), who must find work to continue to enjoy his attorney girlfriend's world-class booty.

Left to their devices, the duo is more interested in getting high then getting hired, and they cruise Los Angeles for beer, weed and trouble. Mike tries to rein Jim in, but there's no way to douse an incendiary hothead, and soon they're diving deeper into an underbelly of thugs, drugs and guns.

Inevitably, these macho maneuvers will come to a nasty conclusion; but we must first sit through too many close calls waiting for Jim to snap. The intensity becomes exhausting, but bits of dark humor take the edge off. (Jim gets turned down by the L.A.P.D. but lands an interview with the Department of Homeland Security, despite dubious drug test results.) The script could have benefited from a few more clever turns, but Ayer gets too caught up in being moody and menacing.

In short, this movie would be brutal, if it weren't so fascinating to watch Bale dive deeper into a twisted psyche. He certainly excels at playing the dashing psychopath.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.