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Harsh Times

By David DiCerto
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Christian Bale is making a nice career out of playing twisted, or at least deeply disturbed, characters with starring roles as a serial killer in "American Psycho" and a skeletal insomniac in "The Machinist," not to mention his dark and tormented turn as the brooding caped crusader in "Batman Begins."

In the grim urban drama "Harsh Times" (MGM), Bale plays ex-Army Ranger Jim Davis, a different kind of American psycho. Returning home to South Central Los Angeles after serving in Iraq -- traumatized by things he saw and did -- Jim, having been turned down by the Los Angeles Police Department, reverts to his former street-thug ways. His fracturing mental frame precipitates a self-destructive spiral of violence and crime into which he drags his unemployed best friend, Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), much to the dismay of the latter's lawyer girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria).

Writer-director David Ayer also penned the script for "Training Day," in which a crooked cop went on a similar rampage through L.A.'s underbelly. In addition to their dangerously out-of-control protagonists, both movies also share a raw grittiness.

Bale's explosive and scarily credible performance notwithstanding, the action is bleak and brutish, compounded by the script's nihilism and morally problematic ending, the latter of which, in addition to presenting a misguided idea of compassion, undermines whatever Ayer may be trying to say about the culture of violence, including its desensitizing effect, especially on those in combat. Though to be fair, it at least shows the tragic consequences of the characters' choices.

There is one scene in which Jim's pregnant girlfriend, Marta (Tammy Trull) -- whom he plans to marry and bring back to the United States from Mexico -- faces down Jim's delusional rage armed only with an earnest belief in the power of love. Though touching, the emotional exchange hardly offsets the overall unpleasantness.

The film contains pervasive rough and crude language and profanity, intense and graphic violence, some disturbing images, a mercy killing, drug content and a suggested sexual encounter. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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