Magazine article The Spectator

Mean Streets

Magazine article The Spectator

Mean Streets

Article excerpt

Harsh Times 15, nationwide

It is a curious thing to watch Christian Bale now, having seen him all those years ago in Empire of the Sun play that fierce, hurt boy Jim Graham, whom no amount of deprivation seemed outwardly to wound, but who bled on the inside like the Spartan boy with his fox. The qualities of that boy's character are usually to be found lurking in the parts that Christian Bale has played since -- he has not radically altered our perception of him with, say, a string of romantic comedies.

He still seems untouchable, cold, frightening, and if not amoral (Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), then certainly a little bit weird (The Machinist). We suspect demons in his past (Batman Begins). He is intense, barbed, and doesn't seem to care whether or not he is liked -- in fact, he seems actively to discourage an audience from finding him in any way appealing by seeking out complex and savage characters and playing them with his hackles raised.

And here's another one to add to the list. Jim David, whom Bale plays in Harsh Times, is a brutal, embittered ex-soldier existing on the brink of psychosis. He, like the other parts Bale has played, is the grown-up (if you can call it that) version of Jim in Empire of the Sun. That boy could have grown into this man, just as he could have grown into Batman or Bateman.

It's a tough film about two men who aren't quite as tough as they think. Jim has come back from a war (a Gulf war -- the film was written a decade ago but is set in the present) and is looking for a job as a cop in the LAPD. He is filled with rage, inclined to freak out at the least provocation, delusional, haunted, plagued by horrific flashbacks and nightmares from his army experiences and a natural candidate, therefore, for government work of some description. Failing to get into the LAPD or the FBI, he is taken up by the fellows at Homeland Security (who are always looking for psychotic killing machines) who offer him a job in Colombia, killing 'bad guys' (in this case, drug traffickers). His aggression will have an unchecked outlet -- it's a guaranteed one-way ticket for his mental health. But Jim does have an alternative: he can give up being a dangerous lunatic with an addiction to violence, marry his adorable Mexican girlfriend, and live happily ever after. …

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