What I Did For Love: Harsh Times (2005)

There are plenty of worse ways to spend your time than watching a terrible movie. But sometimes a movie provides such a miserable experience, it’s easy to forget there are much more awful things happening in the world.

Such is the case with my What I Did For Love selection, Christian Bale’s 2005 crime/drama/day in the life of a garbage person, Harsh Times.

Months ago, when we decided to launch this particular column and I submitted my personal selection, it didn’t occur to me that reviewing this cinematic drudgery would require a repeat viewing. Something I vowed, upon exiting the theater 13 years ago, to never do again.

But I picked this film because it fit the criteria for exactly what this column is about. A bad movie that we once watched for no other reason than that we love the star. And I do love Christian Bale.

And Bale is definitely the star of this misery. He plays Jim Luther Davis, a military veteran in need of a job who believes his only path to gainful employment is with a career in law enforcement. It’s a reasonable assertion, and not a bad plan. Except for one problem. Jim is an alcoholic and drug addict with a “fuck you!” attitude and absolutely no work ethic.

But it’s okay because Jim is motivated. He wants to bring his girlfriend up from Mexico, and he can’t get her into the country legally unless he has a job. Or, as Jim puts it to his friend Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), “I wanna to marry that home girl and import her ass.” The dialogue in this movie is really something…else.

Here are a few gems from the script:

  • “You can 12-step off, bitch. You’re dismissed.”
  • “I’m gonna get fucked up.”
  • “Blink and die, scumbag!”
  • “What if I punch you in the belly?”
  • “I wanna get fucked up.”
  • “You are so utterly, irrevocably busted.”
  • “Let’s get fucked up.”
  • “I see dumb people.”
  • “Blink and die, assholes!”
  • “Are you guys getting fucked up?”

I mean, with dialogue like that, it’s shocking David Ayers hasn’t been nominated for Oscars. Because, yeah, this was written and directed by the same guy who gave us Suicide Squad and Bright. He started off so full of promise with Training Day and even U-571. But looking at his filmography, this seems to be the exact film where he either started to believe his own hype, or just lost site of what it was that made his films work.

From a directorial stand point, Harsh Times isn’t an unqualified disaster. And, really, the acting isn’t terrible. Probably because Bale doesn’t have it in him to give a bad performance. Rodriguez is fine, although his character is very generic. JK Simmons makes an appearance as a DHS recruiter. Eva Longoria plays Mike’s wife. She’s a successful attorney, and it makes no sense that she would put up with her husband’s bull shit. But then, she’s very typical of the hollow, cookie cutter women that are part of Ayers’ brand of misogyny.

The biggest issue with Harsh Times is that it presents very unlikable characters, gives us no reason to find them sympathetic, and then expects us to care what happens to them. It shows a man who is clearly lost in his civilian life, has thrown away every opportunity, but gives it to us packaged as entertainment. What could have been a moving character study of a veteran trying to find his way is relegated to an attempt to turn his poor life choices into mindless recreation.

I watched Harsh Times for love in 2005 and regretted it. Re-watching it in 2018 made me actually dislike it even more.

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