Review: Hard Times
In Depression era New Orleans, stoic drifter Charles Bronson (too old by a decade, but in terrific manly-man shape) hooks up with small-time fight promoter James Coburn, whose last fighter didn’t pan out so well. A lucrative partnership in illegal bare-knuckle fights is formed, though Bronson doesn’t intend on sticking around for too long, while Coburn isn’t exactly reliable in paying his (seemingly plentiful) debts to some awfully shady people. Jill Ireland plays Bronson’s main squeeze (a hooker), Robert Tessier is a thuggish fighter, and Strother Martin plays a drug-addicted ‘cut man’ on Coburn’s payroll.
It might have limited appeal for others, but I must say watching Charles Bronson punch the shit out of hulking slabs of humanity for 90 minutes or so was quite an easy time-waster for me. This 1975 Depression Era flick from director Walter Hill (“The Warriors”, “48HRS”, “Streets of Fire”, “Trespass”, “Undisputed”) is exactly what you would expect a Depression Era flick from Walter Hill would be like. Lots of macho behaviour, not a whole great deal of character development, and plenty of flavour. It’s not exactly “The Sting” of bare-knuckle fighting because Hill isn’t exactly a lightweight comedy caper kinda guy, but it does indeed have a similar look and flavour to that 1973 film at least. Scripted by Bryan Gindoff (who worked as producer-writer of the early Tom Cruise film “Losin’ It”), Bruce Henstell (whose only other writing credit was an episode of “Hunter”), and Hill himself it’s not a great film and you do feel it’s a tad slight. Or short. Something. It never quite does anything more than entertain in the moment. But that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with being a solid watch, is there?
Bronson’s first fight is hilariously abrupt, and the final fight is about as much fun as it can be with minimal blood. The opponent in said fight looks right out of a 40s noir picture, he’s all grim-faced and granite-like. Meanwhile, both the production design and cinematography are tops. The big draw here is the central pairing of Charles Bronson and the always slick and cool James Coburn, one of my all-time favourite actors. Age aside, Bronson is particularly well utilised here in a perfect use of his talents. Outside of “The Great Escape” I wouldn’t dare call him an actor, but he was occasionally well-used in films. One-of-a-kind character actor Strother Martin is also enjoyable as the opium-addicted ‘cut man’. Robert Tessier is always a reliable thug, even if here he suffers the same issue Brock Lesnar does in WWE: His voice doesn’t match the look. At all. The real drawback to the film is Bronson’s beloved wife Jill Ireland, who thankfully isn’t around enough to truly peg this one back but it a debit nonetheless. I’m sure Bronson adored her, but in every film I’ve seen her in, Ireland has come off a terrible, wooden actress and she’s only marginally more acceptable here than in “Assassination”.
Solid, if ultimately unremarkable Depression-era fighting/gambling film with two top stars cast to perfection and solid technical details. There’s not a whole heck of a lot to it, but that’s Hill’s m.o., and there’s not a whole heck of a lot wrong with it. The ending is pitch-perfect, especially in its handling of the two main characters. A fun ‘guy’ movie that marked the director’s cinematic debut.