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Film / Harsh Times

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Harsh Times is a 2005 film written and directed by David Ayer. The film stars Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez and Eva Longoria.

Jim Luther Davis is a former Army Ranger and Iraq War veteran with ties to Mexican gangs in Los Angeles. While trying to secure a job in law enforcement or the government, he uses drugs and engages in petty criminality, proving to be a bad influence on his old friend Mike Alonzo, who is trying to get a job to appease his long-term girlfriend. Over the course of several days, the pair go on a string of reckless adventures that test their relationships and way of life.

This film provides examples of:

  • Badass Bystander: The old man at the drug drop turns out to emerge with a combat shotgun after Jim guns down the other gangsters and fatally shoots Jim.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Flaco, the gangster who gets beaten up by Jim in the first act, emerges in the third act to cause problems.
  • Corrupt Cop:
    • It's quite clear that Jim intends to become thoroughly corrupt if he manages to land a job in some law enforcement agency.
    • Jim and Mike think that they're going to have to shoot it out with some LAPD, but one of the cops turns out to be an old acquaintance from the neighborhood who is a dirty cop. He tries to ingratiate himself to Mike and Jim so he can profit from their connections.
  • Dissonant Serenity: When Jim and Mike witness a gang shooting, Jim calmly lowers himself behind cover and watches the drama play out. Mike follows his lead, though he looks more alarmed. Later, when the pair witness a sudden fatal stabbing right in front of them, Jim is excited in the aftermath. Mike says he feels traumatized and asks why Jim doesn't seem to care. In a flashback, we see Jim casually smoking a cigarette in the aftermath of brutal combat.
  • Dramatic Irony: Government agents harshly criticize Jim for having trace amounts of THC in his system, for which Jim gives a protracted apology. The viewer of course knows that smoking dope is by far the least horrible thing Jim does on a regular basis.
  • Fat Bastard: The government spook who tries to recruit Jim and his "talents" for his US task force in Colombia is noticeably overweight and sweaty. He also advises Jim to dump the Mexican girl he wants to marry and just get a bunch of Colombian mistresses.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Jim mentions rescuing his "battle buddy" who was so mutilated that he begged Jim not to save his life, but he did anyway. In the end, Jim begs Mike to mercy kill him so he doesn't survive as a cripple. Mike does.
    • We briefly see Jim speaking to an unfamiliar man at the Mexican party, but don't find out what it's regarding. It's later revealed that Jim is smuggling drugs across the border.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Jim is a war veteran who is trying to get a civilian law enforcement gig, but along the way he's perfectly comfortable stealing, taking drugs, transporting drugs and selling guns.
  • Mercy Kill: After being critically injured, Jim explicitly begs Mike to "mercy kill" him.
  • Morality Pet: Jim's Mexican girlfriend Marta is an honest and good person who wants to raise a family with him. Jim is ultimately forced to choose between becoming a brutal black ops enforcer in Colombia or live a simple, honest life with Marta.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Subverted. Jim is surrounded by four gangsters who start beating on them, but after taking a few licks, he starts getting the better of all of them before Mike arrives with weapons.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: We see Jim's natural behavior as a brash and irreverent scumbag. However, whenever he's speaking to government personnel, he code-switches into his military personality, giving strong, clear and articulate responses to questions. We see this most prominently when he first answers his phone with a breezy "Hullo...?" and then his whole personality instantly switches when he realizes he's speaking to the government.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Jim, talks in street slang and is even fluent in Spanish.
  • Reformed Criminal:
    • Mike grew up in a bad neighborhood and has a lot of sketchy connections, but he apparently went straight and became a web designer to help put his girlfriend Sylvia through college. Now that he's again unemployed, the temptation to backslide into drunken criminality is high, especially with the bad influence of his best buddy Jim.
    • Mike finally lands a job when he discovers that the hiring manager is an old thug from his neighborhood who has gone straight.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Jim suffers nightmares of his time in active duty.
  • Tattooed Crook: Many of the crooks around LA have tattoos. Both Jim and Mike have Mexican-American-style tattoos on their arms, including portraits and names of their ladies. The film's title is written in gothic typeface popular in tattoos.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Jim, a Shell-Shocked Veteran with gangster ties and a self-destructive streak, is a terrible influence on his best buddy Mike, who went straight long ago and settled down with his lawyer girlfriend. Mike now finds himself jobless and susceptible to Jim's cavalier lifestyle. A great deal of the plot is dedicated to Jim convincing Mike to do reckless things against his better judgment.
  • War Is Hell: War has turned Jim, an already sketchy guy, into a monster. He gloats about being a "soldier of the apocalypse" and says he's going to kill villagers with a machinegun, even their chickens and dogs.