David Ayer’s Harsh Times sees Christian Bale in a character study of extreme dysfunction and maladjusted anger, it’s a tough, bitter film to watch but one that leaves a firebrand in its wake, for better or worse. Bale plays Jim, an Iraqi war vet who has come back stateside so internally fucked up and damaged that he can barely hold down a job or keep up steady relationships with anyone that don’t teeter towards self destruction. He spends his days meandering around the outskirts of LA with Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), his partner in petty crime and apprentice in all things spiteful and misanthropic, much to the dismay of Mike’s much more successful girlfriend (Eva Longoria). Jim is both psychologically broken and emotionally untethered, a dangerous combination if left unchecked, and the downward spiral of violence, drugs and antisocial behaviour he slides into is a sad, pitiable thing to see. Did Jim have an affinity for criminal activities before the war, or did his experience change him into the man he is now? What and where is the causality, if any? Where do the lines blur? Ayer keeps it close to the chest, but the clues are all there in Bale’s measured, incendiary performance that may be his best so far. Sparks of vitality still shine through, as when he shows interest in a job with the Bureau (JK Simmons has a great cameo as the chief interviewer), but even with that he causes corrosive friction, perhaps unintentionally. It’s a blistering character study of a guy whose environment has turned him hard, until he goes against the grain almost by second nature and circles a drain that was a long time coming and from which there is probably no escape. Mixed up with a whole bunch of the wrong kind of people from gangbangers to prolific drug runners, this film sees Jim hit the end of his road,. Both Bale and Ayer make it something powerful to watch, if miserable too.