A loose directorial screw or two rattles throughout Harsh Times and the narrative wheels fall off before the bullet-riddled finish of what might as well be called It’s Training Day Again, Homey, but none of that really matters. All eyes are riveted on Christian Bale, tearing up the screen as ex-Army Ranger, war vet, and walking psych case Jim Davis. Sweating with post-traumatic nightmares, angling for the means to bring his Mexican sweetheart (Tammy Trull) over the border to be his bride in his South Central L.A. hood, and frequently hopped up on beer and weed, Jim is a human time bomb, buttoned into a jacket and tie and dreaming of a job in law enforcement. His unemployed childhood pal Mike (Six Feet Under‘s Freddy Rodriguez) is less twitchy, but no less pressured, feeling the heat from his upwardly mobile girlfriend (Eva Longoria) to find work. Jim and Mike in a car with open beers make a lethal combo. Speechy slang is slung. Damage is done — guns pulled, innocents threatened — whenever Jim veers into madness.
David Ayer, who wrote both Training Day and Harsh Times, specializes in fast and furious scripts, including The Fast and the Furious, about the rough L.A. of his own youth. He makes his feature directorial debut here, and you can see the skid marks as he fishtails. But Bale is mesmerizing and Rodriguez keeps up with him as the whole unsafe contraption zooms.