(Netflix Streaming, October 2018) The measure of great actors can often be seen at how they elevate standard material, and so we have Christian Bale single-handedly making Harsh Times a worthwhile watch. Well, OK, that may be overstating things. After all, this film is another one of writer/director David Ayer’s take on the seedier side of Los Angeles (his first as a director after a good run as a screenwriter) as it follows two young men, one of them a troubled combat veteran (Bale) as they attempt to do better with their lives. That’s easier said than done when jobs are scarce, police work isn’t for those with troubled pasts, and a tangled web of obligations holds down both men. As this wouldn’t be an Ayer film without tense gunplay and impossibly tragic choices, Harsh Times does not head in a happy direction—the third act becomes a dramatic ordeal to watch. Interestingly enough, the film has gained a bit of sustained attention in the decade-or-so since its direct-to-DVD release: the star power of Ayer and Bale (and Eva Longoria, here with a thankless role as a girlfriend trying to bring her husband back to respectability) have ensured that the film continues to get attention today. The uneasy mix of graphic violence and emotionally stunted characters may not make for an easy watch, but Harsh Times holds its own as a sombre LA crime film with good performances and a strong atmosphere.