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Genius Products presents
"I'm a soldier of the apocalypse, man!"
DVD ReviewArguably the most talented actor working today, Christian Bale has recently boosted his appeal thanks to some high-profile roles. His turn in The Prestige was phenomenal and he simply is Batman now thanks to the winning reinvention, Batman Begins. Thankfully, it isn't like Bale to rest on his laurels and simply wait for the high-profile blockbusters to fall in his lap. Instead, he shows up in smaller projects like 2005's Harsh Times. This shelved product from Training Day writer/producer David Ayer hit a handful of theaters late in 2006, but is sure to appeal to Bale's growing fan base now that it's available on DVD.
Jim Davis (Bale) has just been rejected by the LAPD, who promised him a position following a tour of duty in the Middle East. The rejection leads Jim on a streak of violence and self-destruction, and, along with his buddy Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), the booze starts to flow, guns are fired, and illegal drugs consumed. While not a saint himself, Mike becomes caught in the middle of Jim's tirades, jeopardizing his already rocky relationship with Sylvia (Eva Longoria). What sounds like a typical day for your average delusional psychotic turns into a hellish downward spiral. The only question is whether Jim takes Mike all the way down with him.
This is Bale like you've never seen him before, and he's always been a rather chameleonic performer. His hardcore, lewd-language-filled tirades and rampant violent outbursts had me thinking the story was going to take a drastic turn and eventually reveal his character to be an undercover cop. Instead, Jim Davis turns out to be just an extremely messed up war veteran. In what could have been a clownish, pedestrian mockery of such a character turns into a tour-de-force by the always impressive Bale. It's so great to see such a big star tackle a role in a small, barely distributed film.
Unfortunately, Jim Davis goes a little too crazy for the movie's good as things progress. The character teeters between edgy and over-the-top during the entire film, but leans more towards the latter down the stretch. However, these shortcomings are easily forgotten, thanks to a shocking ending that features one of the most breathtaking slow-motion sequences since The Matrix. In pulling this dazzling effect off, Ayer actually makes it easier to forgive the unnecessary, distracting flashback cuts that take us back to Jim's military experiences. These have worked in the past for other pictures, but they're just not elaborate enough, generating confusion. If we're supposed to believe that Jim has been scarred by being in the field, such visuals need to be either fleshed out or completely left to our imagination.
Many character studies involving psychologically damaged military veterans carry at least a glimmer of hope. It's this story's complete lack of such that makes it such a tough sell, and an even tougher chore to mentally revisit following the end credits. Yet despite the tough nature of the proceedings, Ayer paces things brilliantly, making it difficult to push the pause button even once. There's a simple opening title sequence, and then we jump right into Jim's crazed mind. There's no letting up for pointless exposition, as gritty and hard-nosed are the order of the day. He's got plenty of room left for improvement, but as far as directorial debuts go, Ayer is off to a good start.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation stays true to Ayer's visual intentions. Image detail is crisp, but some softness and grain do creep in. However, those aspects are simply style choices for this unique visual experience. The flashback sequences feature bright flashes of light, but the overall color scheme remains natural and well-done, despite these bursts. Fortunately, there don't appear to be any unintentional blemishes in the transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is extremely impressive, making wonderful use of the surrounds and directional effects. Bass presence is phenomenal, adding a tight, aggressive punch to the action sequences and rap-music-heavy soundtrack. Despite the often loud activity, the dialogue never suffers, remaining clear throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Black Christmas, School For Scoundrels
9 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/producer/director David Ayer
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: The extras begin with an audio commentary by writer/producer/director David Ayer. He's generally pleasing to listen to, and we get numerous anecdotes about the shoot along with technical tidbits.
Along for the ride are seven deleted scenes that run for nearly 13 minutes, though they aren't major omissions from the finished film. They basically provide extended looks at some sequences, with footage that was trimmed to tighten the pacing a bit.
We also get the film's original theatrical trailer, as well as nine TV spots, four of which are in Spanish.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsBarely released and virtually unknown, Harsh Times is a worthwhile rental, if only for Christian Bale's performance. While far from a perfect film, David Ayer shows promise as a first-time director, crafting a down and dirty mood. The DVD features excellent audio and video, as well as an Ayer commentary track and deleted scenes.
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