"Harsh Times" is "Mean Streets" cast in the mould of "Training Day". It is a buddy movie and an exploration of the underbelly of the urban landscape, filled with drugs, violence, pointless bravado, and masochistic humor.
Jim Davis (Christian Bale) is an ex-Army ranger, who has temporarily slipped into his previous life of patrolling the streets of LA, engaging in an array of illegal adventures- drug abuse, selling arms in the black market etc. Jim is intent on getting back into the mainstream job market so that he can afford to get married to his girlfriend in Mexico, and bring her to the US. Having freshly being rejected by the LAPD, he is called-in by a Federal agency for a job offer.
He rolls with his buddy Mike, who, in the pretext of searching for a job, joins Jim in his misadventures, and together they navigate the crime hotspots of LA with great ease. They dart in an out of explosive situations, armed with an insider's eye and ear for all things criminal. Their daily routine consists of drugging up as early as possible, as if to block-out any possible intrusion of reason and good-sense, and getting themselves into inextricable situations, and pooling all their resources to get out of them.
During their travails together, they meet some former buddies of theirs who have opted for a more mainstream lifestyle, and "straightened-up". These interludes briefly bring-up the possibility of hope and one day, redemption. The movie suggests that, in the violent inferno of urban crime and street-life, one's destiny is dictated as much by luck and turn of events, as by their deliberate efforts.
Christian Bale turns in another first rate performance. He has been silently building an enviable body of work that speaks for his range as an actor - for further proof, rent and watch "The Machinist" and "Batman Begins" back-to-back. He is ably supported by Freddy Rodríguez ("Six Feet Under") and Eva Longoria ("Desperate Housewives").
This movie was written and directed by David Ayers, whose past writing credits include a slew of hits like "Fast and the Furious", "U-571", and more relevantly "Training Day". He has an eye for detail, particularly in this landscape. Here he creates a believable urban jungle, with suffocating atmospherics and fully believable, down-your-alley characters. It takes a little getting used to to the frequent blood-shed and graphic drug abuse (there is an excruciating scene where Jim undergoes an ingenious procedure to pass a drug test - the weak of heart and refined taste are well advised to stay away).