Jim Davis is a Gulf War veteran who is tormented by a gun-powder quick temper and haunted by bloody dreams. His one soothing ray of light is his girlfriend, Marta, who has consented to be his wife. So Jim sets off for L.A. to land a police job that will give them a new life together. He's gung-ho and snap-to, but the police reject him based on his psych test results.
The angry vet and his best friend, Mike, then drive around the city for the next several days (ostensibly searching for jobs) getting stoned and finding all the trouble they can possibly get their hands on.
But then the Feds invite Jim to join their number and ship out to Colombia. And he's torn between reclaiming the action he seems born for and living the idyllic life with Marta that he longs for. Of course, when you mix an explosive, tormented man with enough drugs and booze, "torn" can get ugly.
Jim and Mike are truly good friends who would risk everything for each other. (Even foolishly.) When told to drive safely away from a shootout situation, Mike stays and draws fire away from his friend. In a bloody, climactic moment, the two men openly express their brotherly love for one another.
When Jim pushes Mike to hook up with one of the girls in Mexico, Mike responds, "I'm not cheating on [my wife]." Jim is urged to not take the love of his good woman lightly, and to not throw it away.
As Jim leaves Marta in Mexico to go seek his police job, he kisses her goodbye and kisses the cross she's wearing. Later, he screams obscenities at God and proclaims, in essence, that he is beyond God's grasp.
At an outdoor party, Jim pulls Marta into the backseat of his car and starts kissing, groping and undressing her. The two are also seen in bed together. At a picnic with friends, Jim graphically recounts a story of taking Marta's sister into the backseat, too, and having sex with her. We also see him kissing an ex-girlfriend.
When robbing a group of gangbangers, Jim grabs a girl's bottom and reaches into the front of her shirt. While driving around L.A., the two friends see (and make suggestive comments about) a busty woman with a very low-cut dress. Several other women bare cleavage and one has an extremely short, tight-fitting skirt. When we first meet Mike's wife, the camera dips to focus on her backside as she walks away.
Jokes reference prison rape and oral sex. Jim consistently makes crude comments about using women.
Jim and Mike are trying to sell a stolen gun to a man in a bar. Someone walks up and smashes a beer bottle over the man's head and uses the jagged glass to gruesomely rip out his throat. Harsh times, indeed. This film is chockablock with shootings, stabbings, slicings and dicings.
While trying to sell stolen drugs, the friends are confronted by a group of men with guns. Shooting soon erupts and four or five men end up bloodied and dead on the sidewalk. Jim also has a bad dream that shows explosions, troops shooting their weapons and one soldier slicing open a man's throat.
When the Feds talk to Jim about joining up they show him pictures of dead men he tortured and killed while a soldier. One agent says, "You should work in a deli, how you sliced these guys up." Jim tries to explain his actions by saying that his commanding officer told him to make sure there were no loose ends. (It turns out that it's this deadly skill that they want him for.)
As the film progresses, Jim's molten flare-ups increase in frequency and intensity, causing him to temporarily lose control. One time he screams and smashes a beer bottle on a man's car window because he looked at him. On other occasions he shoves a gun into Marta's face and Mike's throat with a crazed glare.
[Spoiler Warning] Mike asks his veteran friend what it's like to kill a person. Jim tells him, "It's nothing." This question echoes back at the end of the film when armor piercing bullets rip through Jim's car—and into his back. One round strikes him in the head and paralyzes him. Jim begs his friend to finish him off. He says, "Put the f---ing gun to my head and pull the trigger. Nobody's gonna know. Just you and me and God." With great emotional agony Mike puts the pistol to Jim's head and fires.
Crude or Profane Language
Hundreds of brain-numbing and soul-bludgeoning uses of the f-word march hand in hand with slightly fewer s-words. But at these levels, there's no noticeable difference. Bucketfuls of other profanities (including "a--," "d--n" and "h---") are mixed with abuses of God's and Jesus' names, and vulgar references to male and female genitalia.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jim and Mike smoke marijuana, drink copious amounts of beer and tequila, and smoke cigarettes. They do these things so much you sometimes wonder how they have time for all the fighting. There is also a bar scene that shows a number of people drinking. After returning from a trip to Mexico, Jim reveals to his friend that he stole 20 kilos of weed and has it in the trunk of their car. (Mike is none too happy that Jim risked his future without telling him.)
In order to pass a drug test, Jim drinks vinegar to shut down his kidneys and painfully injects "clean" urine into himself with a turkey baster. (We see his upper body and face.)
Other Negative Elements
Mike wants to find a job, but Jim talks him into trolling the streets instead. They have friends leave fake call-backs from employers to deceive his wife into thinking that he's earnestly looking for work. While the guys are driving around trying to sell their stolen gun, they're stopped by a policeman—who gives them a tip on where to sell it.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a d--n!" When Clark Gable uttered that now famous line in 1939's Gone With the Wind, it had exactly the boundary pushing, attention-getting effect that the filmmakers hoped for. Audiences were shocked. Shocked! The industry was abuzz.
Today, nobody's shocked about anything. We're all hapless frogs in a now-nearly-boiling kettle. It's commonplace for movies to be filled to the brim with foul language. In fact, if you were to remove just the f-word (and its myriad derivations) from Harsh Times you'd probably save about 20 minutes of screen time. The impact of this constant bombardment was emphasized to me when, at one point during the film's early screening, the projected image slipped down, cutting off the bottom half. The actors were talking in Spanish at the time and we couldn't see the subtitles. I was surprised at how refreshing it was to not understand a word they were saying. I still got the point, without a single four-letter slap.
Writer/director David Ayer (who produced and penned the script for the movie Training Day) doesn't stop with profanity, though. He also pushes boundaries in the violence category and in dealing with one of Hollywood's latest buzz issues—assisted suicide (or mercy killing). Harsh Times speaks of consequences for our actions and depicts a character agonizing about killing a friend. But in the end, the movie says little more than: "It's sad this had to happen, but if the situation is hopeless enough, this is the right thing to do."
I'm sure Mr. Ayers would strongly disagree with me and say that the things I've mentioned simply give his film cutting-edge, realistic grit. And I'd have to respond that I think we've had way too much grit in our films for a while now. He'd probably disagree with that, too.