Looking for an understated, beautiful, well-crafted movie with plenty of punching, but not too much punching? Hard Times (1975) with Charles Bronson and James Coburn hits the spot.
There’s not much plot. A quiet drifter named Chaney (Bronson, obviously) comes into town, and quickly makes his name as a formidable street fighter. He begins and ends an uncomfortable relationship with a Lucy, large-eyed, lonely, woman (Jill Ireland), and has a falling-out with his reckless manager, Speed (Coburn). He agrees to a final, high-stakes fight, and then moves along.
I couldn’t take my eyes of Charles Bronson. The guy looks like an actor; but in his other movies, you sometimes have to exercise patience when he opens his mouth. Not in so Hard Times. This role was made for him. As a lady person, I’m not especially interested in fighting, so I was watching carefully to see how Bronson moved, and it was incredibly compelling, really beautiful and evocative. Without saying a word (and usually without changing the placid, patient expression on his Bronsonface), he told you everything about his attitude toward other people — those whose butt he’s kicking, and anyone else he has to deal with, too. No wasted emotion, no wasted action.
If you, like me, are feeling a little itchy over our current choices of the shiny-faced hero boys and cerebral, neurotic, tormented leading men, I present Charles Frickin’ Bronson:
My husband thinks maybe (minor spoiler) Chaney and Lucy are actually husband and wife, and the complicated situation with her husband in jail, and her disgust with his failure to commit — this is their already-established situation. Maybe! Or maybe they know each other in some other way; or maybe they are just the kind of people who are always in these situations, and they know each other just because they’ve fought this fight before.
The soundtrack is contemporaneous with the Depression-era setting, which I enjoyed (and the setting is meticulously recreated and very persuasive); but I bet if someone re-scored the soundtrack with edgy Indy songs, it would blow everyone’s minds.
It’s only 93 minutes, and doesn’t waste a speck of your time. I’ll be on the lookout for other films by the director, Walter Hill. Hill says:
My heroes usually have a very talkative foil opposite them or reluctantly alongside them, such as Bruce Dern in The Driver, or Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs, or James Coburn in Hard Times. I like the kind of dialogue between people who have a mutual goal but very disparate appetites and needs, so that there’s always a kind of friction that runs throughout the film. They don’t like each other very much, and hopefully the movie supplies a reason for them to achieve a grudging kind of respect for each other.
Worked for me. This movie is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.