If David Ayer the director paid David Ayer the screenwriter for this script, he should ask himself for some of his money back. The screenplay is awfully close to Ayer’s own Training Day, the film that won Denzel Washington his Oscar. Both movies take place mostly in a car, with one character a sociopath and the other too easily led. In both, the two guys drive around, abusing every possible substance, having encounters with old friends and enemies (including women in both categories), get into trouble, create trouble, and create more trouble. In both, characters demonstrate their concept of manliness through violence, substance abuse, mistreatment of women, loyalty to male friends, subversion of any form of rules, nihilism, and destruction. Furthermore, if you took out every swear word and all of the “homeys” and “dawgs,” the rest of the dialogue would fit on a page or two.
Christian Bale plays Jim, a former Ranger in Afganistan waiting to get a job with the LAPD so he can marry his Mexican girlfriend and bring her to the US. Freddy Rodriguez is his best friend, Mike, who is supposed to be looking for a job but would rather drive around with Jim and get high. He is a little in awe of Jim for his experiences (he asks what it’s like to kill someone and Jim says, “Point and shoot. Pop, pop — move on! You do not stop and think!”
Neither one of them stops to think. They have only four modes: elation (when they think they got away with something), fury (when they don’t), stupor (when they’re high), and waiting to be elated, furious, or high.
Christian Bale clearly relishes the showboaty role of Jim, intended to be a tragic figure and an indictment of our culture and our geopolitical arrogance — his behavior seems to be attributable to post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Afganistan. And the movie isn’t called “Harsh People.”
Jim is torn apart by his incompatible passions for law and chaos. He wants to work in law enforcement, almost as though he believes that being surrounded by rules and structure will keep his uncontrollable nature in check. But he wants the law to give him permission to be lawless. A friend asks if he will toe the line if he gets the job and he says he will but he will also operate something for himself on the side.
It is this very conflict that gets him rejected by the LAPD and makes him a prize catch for the Department of Homeland Security. The special projects section takes a look at the photos of victims from one of his raids and cynically recognizes him as a kindred spirit, just right for their “trigger-time” program in Colombia. That job offer crystalizes his conflict. He wants to go back to the days of pure sensation and power. But it means he will not be able to marry Marta, the woman he loves, in the only place where he is happy. As that choice is presented to him more forcefully, he spins out of control.
Rodgriguez is fine as a weak man who mistakes what Jim has for strength, and Terry Crews and Chaka Forman make strong impressions as, well, homeys. Ayers has a feel for tough talk, though it gets over-“homey’d” quickly. But the movie falters because it tries for meaning it just doesn’t deliver. Ultimately, it is as mesermized by the flash and adrenalin as its hero.
Parents should know that the movie has deeply disturbing images of intense, graphic, explicit, mindless violence. Characters continually use the strongest and crudest possible language. There are crude sexual references and non-explicit situations. Characters abuse alcohol and drugs, deal drugs, and smoke. Characters are nihilistic and macho.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Jim’s experiences in Afganistan affected him. Why did Mike put up with him for as long as he did? Do you agree with Mike’s choice at the end?
Families who enjoy this film will also appreciate Training Day and Journey to the End of the Night.