Hard Times Blu-ray Review
Walter Hill's debut still packs a punch.
Movies reviewSRP: £14.99
Hard Times sees Charles Bronson and James Coburn reunite for the third time (after The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven) in Walter Hill's directorial debut.Taking a striking hit at Depression Era period exploits, Hill's simple tale is of Bronson's down-on-his-luck drifter, Chaney, who takes up bare knuckle brawling and falls in with a sponsor, Coburn's grinning hustler, Speed, who pushes him to bigger and tougher fights in a quest for more money. Indeed it's largely the mixture of ingredients that sets Hill's effort apart - the tale itself is more than familiar, but the era gives it a palpable air of desperation, which resonates with the survival instinct that motivates the characters; and similarly the content, whether in terms of dialogue or action, are nothing strikingly remarkable, but Hill's distinctive style, even here in its very infancy, gives it a nice edge and flair. It's still a raw film, but that arguably suits the subject matter.No small amount of credit should go to the lead pairing either, as they carry the entire movie on their broad shoulders, working tremendously well together and committing to the parts. Coburn was a born hustler, and Bronson, despite being a whopping 54 at the time was in Tom Cruise-like shape. Beyond the fighting though, this is often regarded as Bronson's definitive performance, and it's easy to see why; he really embodies this no-nonsense character, who has few words - it was a go-to role for the man - but here there is a hint of rawness and perhaps even vulnerability that arguably set it apart from some of his more famous roles. It was a memorable part for the actor, and an auspicious start to Hill's career.
Picture QualityHard Times gets a Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release which boasts a largely excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. Eureka have once again gone above and beyond for a relatively little known catalogue title, sourcing a new 4K remaster which forms the foundation for this presentation.
Eureka have once again gone above and beyond, sourcing a new 4K master for this presentation
Detail is impressive, with a layer of suitably filmic natural grain pervading the piece, but giving it a faithful look, whilst clarity and sharp nuances abound beneath. There are absolutely no print defects and a lot of time and loving attention have gone into cleaning up the image without losing any information.
The colour scheme furthers the suitably dilapidated, Depression era look, bathed in wood and earth colours, with misty greys prevalent and skin tones which, whilst healthy, also reflect the period style with a distinct lack of anything approaching a tan. Black levels leave darker sequences still popping with shadow detail, and the dusty, misty, underground fighting looks refined. It's a very good video presentation.
Sound QualityThe accompanying soundtrack comes in two separate flavours - a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which remixes the stereo source material into some semblance of a six-speaker offering, whilst an uncompressed PCM 2.0 track provides a more natural but also more restricted alternative.
A faithful, natural and strong representation of the source material
Despite being something of a remix, the 5.1 track is the preferable option, doing a good job at staying true to the sound design whilst delivering a more embracing track that serves the feature better. Dialogue remains clear and coherent, getting prioritisation above the remaining elements from across the frontal array.
The score suits the piece, a feverish affair which gives the package more punch and the array more fuel. Effects pick up the mostly atmospheric nuances, but really deliver the goods with the weight of each punch, and whilst this isn't an all-engulfing affair, it's a faithful, natural and strong representation of the source material.
ExtrasEureka's extras package is headlined by an interview with director Walter Hill, recorded for the National Film Theatre. Hill looks back at his origins with this production, working with the cast and honing his style. There's also a couple of new Interview commissioned specifically for this release - one with producer Lawrence Gordon, who reflects upon this early feature from the director, and one from composer Barry DeVorzon, who recalls his contribution to the film, and some anecdotes about it. The disc is rounded off by the original theatrical trailer and there's also a booklet with further essays on the film.
Blu-ray VerdictThis is Bronson's definitive performance and an auspicious start to Hill's directing career
Eureka's strong package affords this little gem a strong 4K remaster and solid audio, as well as a decent salvo of interviews in the extras department. Fans of the film should regard it as the definitive release, and the film itself is worth checking out.
You can buy Hard Times on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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