Woody Harrelson outstays his welcome as dirty cop Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown in this difficult and complicated police drama by the equally difficult but highly proficient director Oren Moverman. Rampart is a brutal, honest and depressing noir film, made so by the absolute first rate performances of its entire cast which include Sigorney Weaver, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, the ever beautiful Robin Wright and Ned Beatty, who are all trapped in the ‘shit storm’ that is Officer Brown. Harrelson though gives a magnificent performance as the misanthropic vigilante; engaging and composed. How he was passed over for another oscar nomination is a real travesty. Not age and certainly not the ‘chronic’ has wearied this natural born killer.
Moverman’s first film in 2009 The Messenger saw him deftly handle emotionally tricky situations. He delivered a moving film that saw him gain very respectable praise, not least for propelling Harrelson and Ben Forster into leading men status. The team is reunited, with the young Forster taking a producing credit along with bit role as a wheelchair bound vagrant. If a pattern is emerging in the themes of both films it’s Moverman’s search for an understanding of how men in authoritarian positions handle their lot while facing the very real and often changing circumstances around them. In Rampart, Officer Dave Brown is an anachronistic breed of cop, the ‘ John Wayne’ type, set in his ways and operating with impunity. Alcoholic, immoral but also devilishly seductive. How he got to be so crooked is anyone’s guess. Racist and bigoted he may be but he fucks, kills and screws over anyone regardless of race or creed.
Set in Los Angeles in 1999, during the on-going police corruption investigations, Rampart charts the downward spiral of Harrelson’s career cop. The twice married father of two daughters each from mothers who are sisters. ‘..that makes you cousins and half-sisters’ he proudly explains to his youngest, sees himself as a patriach to his family and one that is untainted by his occupational transgressions. But this is where the complexities begin. With his daughters becoming teenagers and media literate, the innocence is lost. Outcast by his family and now the Police Force for one too many ‘coincidences’, his disintegration is mesmerising. Which makes Rampart all Harrelson, he is in every scene, but this movie is more than just a character study of a wretched cop in police procedural drama. Moverman makes the waters even murkier and more complex, with a backdrop of endemic corruption and political manuourverings. Depressing as it sounds, there are a few lifelines. Robin Wright enters the picture as Harrelson’s tortured and vulnerable lover, drinking and fucking her pain away while compromising her legal profession’s code of conduct. Together they almost convince us there is salvation. As does retired cop Ned Beatty, who has his fingers in ‘more police twat than any cop in the force’, who throws Harrelson a few bones to keep him going and being so well connected he pulls all the right strings for him. Being even more bent seems to be the only way out.
Rampart is not a tragedy to lament over, nor is it an antidote to hollywood happy endings. Rampart is scathingly good independent American film making, experimental and difficult at times but rewardingly and refreshingly honest and not least for the brilliantly precise and forthright characters constructed by Moverman and master crime writer James Ellroy.
Rampart is in cinemas 24th February 2012.
Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver
Runtime: 108 min