Harsh Times (2006)

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Released 19-Apr-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Menu Animation & Audio-(0:36)
Trailer-Grudge 2 (2:22)
Trailer-The Wrong Man (Lucky Number Slevin) (1:59)
Trailer-The Black Dahlia (2:13)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 110:47
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Ayer
Studio
Distributor
Crave Films
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Christian Bale
Armando Cantina
Freddy Rodríguez
Eva Longoria
Kenneth Choi
Tammy Trull
Terry Crews
Robert Dahey
Samantha Esteban
Chaka Forman
César García Gómez
Noel Gugliemi
Sonia Iris Lozada
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Graeme Revell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

When it was announced Christian Bale would be portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins back in 2004, film fans rejoiced. Finally Christian Bale would receive recognition from mainstream audiences, as well as from the Hollywood film industry. Bale’s journey to Hollywood hasn’t always been greeted with success, as he preferred films with challenging subject matters, and subsequent smaller budgets and limited promotion. After his riveting portrayal of Jim Graham in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, Bale would go on to appear in a string of independent films, and few high profile films, working with such diverse directors as Thomas Carter, Gillian Armstrong, Todd Haynes, John Singleton and Kurt Wimmer. These films provided countless opportunities for Bale to inhabit a range of characters in films of various genres. Bale was an unpredictable actor and consequently gained a cult fan base due to his ability to create characters who go on to exist in the imaginations of the audience, long after the closing credits had rolled. From his menacing portrayal of Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel American Psycho to his portrayal of Sam, a young psychiatrist who tries to repair his fractured relationship with his free-spirited mother in Lisa Cholodenko’s Laurel Canyon, Bale refused to be typecast. Furthermore, Bale appeared in two action vehicles, Reign of Fire and Equilibrium. The latter received limited promotion upon release due to the box- office failure of Reign of Fire in the United States, yet Equilibrium became a cult hit on DVD.

Although Bale’s loyal fan base, affectionately known as baleheads, were pleased for the actor to receive mainstream success, there was the fear that Bale may no longer appear in smaller independent productions due to his new found status. Just before Bale began production of Batman Begins, he had just finished filming Brad Anderson’s El Maquinista, a film which truly exhibited the lengths Bale would go to, in order to inhabit a character. Yet Bale being the true artist he is, continued to appear in a range of challenging films post-Batman Begins. Bale appeared in a brief yet pivotal role in Terrence Malick’s The New World, portrays Dieter Dengler in Werner Herzog’s yet to be released Rescue Dawn and reunites with Todd Haynes’ in I'm Not There in which Bale appears in three roles including a role as Bob Dylan. There is also the remake of 3:10 to Yuma as well as the sequel to Batman Begins, titled The Dark Knight.

Bale’s affection for characters psychologically spiralling out of control and physically at war with themselves (American Psycho, The Machinist, Batman Begins, The Prestige) would come full circle with the character of Jim Davis in Harsh Times. The film marks the directorial début of screenwriter David Ayer who wrote the script for the crime dramas Training Day and Dark Blue, the submarine thriller U-571 and the action crime films The Fast and the Furious and S.W.A.T. The script for Harsh Times was written before Ayer achieved success in Hollywood and is a much more personal film in comparison to his later efforts, as the characters and events of the film are inspired by Ayer’s own experience as a youth in South Central. Bale reportedly was in competition for the part of Jake in Training Day, the role which ultimately went to Ethan Hawke and earned Hawke an Academy Award nomination. However Ayer gave Bale the script for Harsh Times to read sometime in 2000 and Bale had great interest in the part but as Harsh Times was originally a studio production, Bale’s casting as a lead was met unfavourably by studio executives. Nevertheless Ayer was committed to casting Bale in the lead role of Jim Davis and Ayer decided to remove the script from the studio system and direct and finance the film himself, with Bale credited as an executive producer. After production ceased on Batman Begins, Harsh Times began production.

Harsh Times is an intricate character study centring on two friends; Jim Davis (Christian Bale) an ex-Army Ranger recently discharged from the military, who hopes to join the LAPD, so he can marry his Mexican girlfriend Marta, (Tammy Trull) and live a quiet existence in America and Mike Alonzo (Freddy Rodríguez), a childhood friend of Davis, who is filled with despair after losing his white collar job. Alonzo barely makes an attempt to find another job yet fears he is losing his role in his relationship with Sylvia (Eva Longoria), as she becomes the main source of income. The two friends reunite just as Davis finds out he has been rejected by the LAPD after failing the psychological test. Bitter after the rejection, Davis needs an outlet to vent his anger and frustration and he specifically looks for confrontations with street gangs and drug dealers. Alonzo admires Davis’s ability to create violent confrontations without a sense of conscience. The two decide to lie and cheat for cheap thrills however Davis is asked to apply to join the Department of Homeland Security while Sylvia asks Alonzo to leave the home they share. The two characters are faced with a series of choices but more often then not, the ‘bad’ choice is the only one they can choose due to their imperfect environment, allegiance to each other and their own sense of self worth.

"Jim is a guy who is valued for one thing and that's for violence and for being the guy who will go that much further than anybody else. I think that everybody likes to be good at something and to be recognised for something; you're going to cling onto that if it means you have nothing when you give that up. Violence is his meal-ticket." Christian Bale explains the basis of the character of Jim Davis.

Harsh Times is highly recommended on the basis of the performances of Bale, Rodríguez and Trull. Each of the characters are complex and their motivations and ambitions are understandable. Bale neither plays the character as sympathetic or villainous; instead he creates a portrait of a man who only understands sacrifice means glory. Rodríguez supports Bale’s on-screen intensity with a performance realised with sincerity and integrity as Alonzo is a character watching his friend self-destruct and would do anything to help him, even if it meant sabotaging his own relationships. Trull’s character of Marta sees the charm and loyalty of Davis; she never doubts him and believes he is capable of anything and everything. With Trull, Marta is a beautifully realised character who supports Davis with her mere presence.

David Ayer views this world with a sense of claustrophobia; most scenes take place in one car. Ayer fixes the camera firmly on the actor’s faces capturing every nuance of the intense performances. One criticism is the repeatedly used visual effect which is used to amplify Bale’s performance, when the character becomes unpredictable. The visual effect is completely unnecessary considering Bale’s dedication to the role and his on-screen intensity. Also the film’s running time is lengthy and there are some unnecessary predictable scenes. However despite the flaws, the film is certainly worth viewing for baleheads and audiences who want a film which is intelligent and confronting. The film showcases Bale’s talent for creating complex characters, Rodríguez as a truly exciting actor and Ayer as an up and coming talented writer-director.

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Transfer Quality

Video

Harsh Times is presented in 16x9 enhanced 1.78:1 wide-screen, on a dual layer DVD. The look of the film itself is combined heavy grain and a muted colour palette; however even considering this the DVD transfer leaves a lot to be desired.

The picture quality is soft with little definition; the scenes with minimal lighting suffer the most as shadow detail is minimal, for example 66:03.

The quality of the transfer is not a question of how the film was encoded on the DVD, as the average bit rate of 5.70 Mbps; rather it is the source of the transfer.

There were some film artefacts on the print of the film and skin tones are over-saturated.

The layer change occurred at 55:04 between scenes; the placement of the layer change is noticeable as it cuts off brief dialogue from the previous scene.

The film contains English and Spanish dialogue. The English subtitles for the Spanish dialogue appear on the print as intended, as a clear white text.

The optional English Hard of Hearing subtitles are true to the onscreen action and dialogue.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

As mentioned many of the scenes of Harsh Times take place in a car. Subsequently background music emitted from the sound system in the car, is key to the sound design of the film.

The dialogue is mostly directed at the font of the sound stage, along with the music. The channel separation isn’t overt but rears output atmospheric sounds. There are a few brief moments of gun play in which the surround sound is used, with mild usage of the subwoofer but otherwise the audio is at the front of the soundstage.

The soundtrack for the film contains original music by Graeme Revell, as well as a large and varied soundtrack reflective of the Chicano and Gangsta Rap culture explored in the film. Los Angeles Negroes, Freestyle, Eazy E, Delinquent Habits and Señor Soul are a few examples of musical acts which appear on the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu Animation & Audio-(0:36)

The Main Menu features a still image of Bale as Jim Davis, with scenes from the film animated in the background, with a brief section of the opening score. There is a scene selection option and a set up option. Also the three trailers which precede access of the menu can be selected individually from the main menu.

Roadshow Home Entertainment Trailers

The following trailers are16x9 enhanced and precede access of the main menu. Each trailer can also be accessed individually from the main menu; Grudge 2 (2:22), The Wrong Man (Lucky Number Slevin) (1:59) and The Black Dahlia (2:13).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The R1 standard DVD is the preferred version of Harsh Times due to the additional extras.

The single disc release features:

NTSC Transfer

English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

Optional English SDH (Subtitling for Deaf and Heard of Hearing)

Audio commentary by David Ayer

Seven deleted scenes

Trailer gallery - Theatrical trailer and a total of nine TV spots (five in English and four in Spanish).


Also Harsh Times will be released on HD DVD in the US on May 15, 2007

Summary

Harsh Times showcases Bale’s talent for creating complex characters, Rodríguez as a truly exciting actor and Ayer as an up and coming talented writer-director.

This bare-bones disc contains an unremarkable transfer of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Vanessa Appassamy (Biography)
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1910, using DVI output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE 700. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DSP-A595a - 5.1 DTS
Speakers(Front) DB Dynamics Polaris AC688F loudspeakers,(Centre) DB Dynamics Polaris Mk3 Model CC030,(Rear) Polaris Mk3 Model SSD425,(Subwoofer) Jensen JPS12

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