A twisted story of friendship, loyalty and love, writer/director David Ayer's Harsh Times brings the rough streets of South Central Los Angeles alive on the screen in his latest gritty drama.
Christian Bale (The Prestige, Batman Begins) stars as an ex-Army Ranger named Jim Davis who's haunted by memories of his time spent in the military. Freddy Rodriguez co-stars as his best friend Mike, a loyal buddy who gets pulled back into his old life of crime when Jim returns to South Central Los Angeles.
What kind of research did you do?
I had the best kind of research. First of all, Dave [Ayer] himself. This is inspired by his own stories. All I had to do was say to Dave, Bring em all on. Bring all your friends in. Bring the military guys in. Bring the gang member guys in. Bring everybody in. Lets just sit. And I spent three weeks hanging out. We went on tour, policemen as well.
It was funny because one day wed be hanging out with an ex-gang member. Hed be telling us all stories about what he did down that street there, and then we go get a drink in a bar somewhere and wed be chatting. Hed be helping me out, talking about Chicano lifestyle, vernacular, lingo and everything. And the next day wed be going on a drive-around with a policeman who was showing us the same streets and telling us stories about what he did down there. I could see both sides of the fence and how they actually intersect an awful lot.
On top of that, the military personnel people who were good enough [to spend time with us]. And Im really appreciative to them for being good enough to come spend some time with me, for allowing me to pick their brains, for some who divulged - and this goes for some ex-gang members, people I spoke with, the policemen included, military - people who told me very personal stories, very tragic stories. The military wars going on and theres wars right in the streets of LA, as well. [They told] stories that I would not repeat to anybody, just because these are personal stories that they offered to me with the understanding that it was just between the two of us.
It was a fascinating thing. Many of the military personnel even though were not trying to suggest that this is a generic experience of soldiers. Not everybody comes back and suffers from some kind of PTSD. Many do. Its not a rare case, and almost everybody knows somebody who has been affected. With [my character] Jim, however, the problem is he wont admit it. He is in denial about that. Thats what really sends him on his downward spiral because he believes himself to be invincible, to be self-sufficient, and so how could he ever need help from anybody else? Hes this unstoppable force.
Have you gotten backlash from any soldiers who say the film portrays them like psychos?
See, I don't believe it portrays them like that in the slightest. To me, its a very honorable thing. Dave would not be like that towards the military. He comes from the military himself. But like many military people, you know what? They aint brainless. They are allowed to question what is going on. Sure, you have to be there for the person right next to you. That is what everybody says. Thats why they fight. Because you stand back and look at the bigger picture. For Gods sake, if they dont have the right to stand back and question what the hell is going on, who does? And so I dont believe that anybody could look at this and say that were pointing fingers at anybody whatsoever.
Its a complex movie. Thats what I saw in it. Thats what I enjoy about it. I hate to use the word enjoy because I could say that for maybe the first half, excluding the very beginning of the movie. But its kind of a joyride of a couple of old buddies, basically one of whom who is with Mikes character [played by Freddy Rodriguez], whose movie I believe it truly is. Its kind of seen through his eyes. Its kind of his story of having to let go of a friend who was not fitting into the puzzle of his life any longer. But somebody who has moved on, who is constructing a life, who has committed to a long term relationship with the character Sylvia played by Eva [Longoria].
Bale continued, Then youve got Jim returning, who basically has seen so much trauma that he truly cant share with Mike. Mike is a brother to him, but hes probably become closer to the people that he lost abroad. But he comes back and man, he is just looking for the days of their teenage years when they could just kick back, smoke out, drink, go driving, get into trouble and it was relatively harmless. They were allowed to do that. You get a pass to do that at a certain age. The problem is hes past that age, but more importantly, hes past that capability. Hes a killing machine now. He aint just somebody with a penchant for violence. Hes somebody with which its an art form. He is just not somebody to mess with in the slightest.
Did you do any military or police training?
Absolutely, we did all that. I was going down to the firing range with Army Rangers. We were opening up with M-16s, M4s. You have the kind of families down there shooting their pistols who were staring up and going, Holy crap, whats going on there? We were just tearing up the whole building. Yes, I got very handy with a lot of different weapons for it and kind of over-learned. I learned how to use many of the different weapons or pieces that I didnt even need to end up using for the movie.
My original intention was actually to see if I could attend that Rangers school. Thats what I wanted to do. But it was about eight weeks, so I didnt have the time for it. I have no idea if they would have even allowed me in or not. It just ended up being, Look, theres no time. But I really wanted to see, because theres a high drop-out rate from that. I really kind of wanted to test and see all right, would I even be able to manage to get through that training.