Rampart tells the story of corrupt police officer Dave ‘Date rape’ Brown, played by Woody Harrelson. Set in Los Angeles in the late nineties, the film focuses around the infamous Rampart police scandals with Brown our main protagonist and anti-hero. He is not a likeable guy, being misogynistic, racist, arrogant and aggressive, but he is renowned in the police force for exacting justice on the bad guys, even if he doesn’t really stick to the rulebook. When he is caught on camera beating up a suspected criminal, he finds himself at the centre of an enquiry that brings to the surface many past immoralities, such as the murder of a date rapist, hence his nickname. This is the catalyst for a personal downward spiral where questions of morality and power come into play.
With acclaimed writer James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) responsible for the screenplay and the brilliant Woody Harrelson in the leading role, expectations were high for this film and unfortunately these expectations were not met. The plot is extremely thin and there is little character development throughout, with minor characters played by great actors such as Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver being highly underused and therefore unmemorable. This is definitely a one man show and Harrelson does a good, but not, great job. Surprisingly, he lacks the charisma that this unpleasant character needs in order for the audience to invest in him. Considering Harrelson’s diverse back catalogue there is proof he is certainly capable of charisma, Natural Born Killers and Zombieland for starters, but here we see a toned down, more restrained, performance from the actor, which is commendable but does not remotely work for this film for numerous reasons.
Everything rests on the audience liking the main character, as Brown is the solitary focus of the film, but there isn’t really anything to like. The slow, meandering and often indistinguishable plot is abandoned for a supposed character study that lacks depth and emotion. There are intriguing elements to the film and the character, and Harrelson successfully portrays a paranoid state, leaving it ambiguous as to whether Brown suffers from a persecution complex or if he has indeed been set up. Ambiguity and uncertainty are at the centre of this film, in both the characters and the plot, and the dialogue suffers from being dull and lifeless. If you want a fast paced thriller with closure this is not the film for you.
In order to add a little bit of humanity to the character of Brown, although it is too little and too late, we see his crumbling relationship with his daughters and their different mothers (who are also sisters to add to the confusion). The downward spiral coincides with a realisation that he has lost anything good he remotely had, but it is very difficult to feel sympathy for him at this point. Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche play the long suffering exes and Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky are good as the daughters. Robin Wright plays the role of an alcoholic lawyer who gets too involved with Brown well.
To its credit the film is shot very well and the camera angles and movements are carefully chosen to liven up this rather dull film. 360 degree panning shots and low angle shots, alluding to the status of the leading man, are used effectively. Interesting shot choices, such as shooting in between objects in the foreground which are out of focus, make Rampart visually interesting but this does not compensate for the countless negatives. Handheld camera moments and natural lighting give the film a documentary feel in parts and the use of red light is an obvious visual motif for the seedy world that Brown exists in. A clichéd club scene sees the unnecessary overemployment of the camera to depict the addled state of the main character. There are plenty of recurring motifs to link the film together but the lack of a detailed and coherent plot results in a visually interesting film with absolutely no depth, reminiscent of the main character.
It wouldn’t have taken a lot to make this film much better and that is the most frustrating thing. Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans (2009) shows how it should be done, with a charismatic anti-hero and a lively pace that keeps you on your toes. Rampart feels as though it got too smug, with a distinguished writer and actor involved it seems to have forgotten the all important element, make your film interesting.
The extras include a making of, cast and crew interviews and a trailer.
Rampart is yours to investigate on DVD and Blu-ray on 9th July 2012.
Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche
Runtime: 102 mins