Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube
Release date: February 10th, 2012
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment
Running time: 108 minutes
Best part: Woody Harrelson.
Worst part: The depthless narrative.
With a penchant for gritty cop drama, screenwriter/author James Ellroy (L.A Confidential, The Black Dahlia) continues his honest yet disturbing writing style for this interpretation of the controversial true story so insulting its almost ripped straight from one of his coveted crime novels. Rampart‘s execution however doesn’t do this powerful story justice, failing to provide a satisfying message or understandable pay-off.
Set in 1999, this bizarre tale of true events is based around the slowly crumbling life of notoriously sick and twisted senior police officer Dave ‘date- rape’ Brown (Woody Harrelson). He is a hurricane blowing through a dirty, crime-ridden town, as his questionable antics and lack of enthusiasm run him into the laws he proclaims to protect everyday. Living uncomfortably with two ex-wives and sisters, and his two precocious daughters, Brown must save them from his own disgraceful crimes. He also contends with the aftermath of the race war he single handily begins and his run ins with DA investigators, witnesses, informants, lawyers and an angry mayor; coinciding with his shameful emotional spiral downwards. The screenplay itself, co-written by Ellroy and director Oren Moverman (The Messenger), is clearly written to be a no-nonsense, thought provoking drama. The magnificent dialogue is full of lines questioning this period of time in L.A history. “I’m not a racist, I hate all people equally.” Brown tells Ice Cube’s DA investigator character as he unflinchingly explains his reasoning for being targeted by anyone with a different frame of mind.
Unfortunately, past the witty yet alluring dialogue moments is a story which fails to highlight the important issues. The legitimacy of unethical police officers, questioned by the state of California, is an important part of beautiful yet truly tough crime thrillers such as L.A. Confidential, the issues important to this point in history are unusually ignored here in favour of character. Moverman’s direction provides elements of observational documentary filmmaking for this study of a heartless anti-hero. In Rampart, the camera keeps moving throughout as pans, tilts and high and low angles constantly provide a distraction rather than a unique mark of directorial style. The use of colour and editing tricks however cleverly illustrate the truly degrading fall from grace Brown experiences, as this hard edged cop gives into all forms of sinful temptation. Despite wonderfully humorous and compelling dialogue, convincingly illustrating relevant issues from different perspectives, this film is comparable to other slice of life dramas such as the Michael Fassbender independent feature Shame, both uniquely focusing on one disturbed character. Rampart boasts a solid cast, yet fails to develop its characters beyond shallow representations of different social and political issues.
“I don’t cheat on my taxes… you can’t cheat on something you never committed to.” (Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), Rampart).
The performances however capture a charismatic allure that make the characters important on an emotional level, particularly Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche as sisters and Brown’s concerned ex-wives. Ice Cube’s turn as DA investigator Kyle Timkins is surprisingly charismatic. While Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Ben Foster (re-teaming with Moverman and Harrelson from The Messenger) and Ned Beatty, all in small roles, are convincing yet fail to make a mark on this alluring yet ambiguous story. The saviour of his frustratingly ambiguous and unfocused character study is Woody Harrelson. In every scene, Harrelson strangely embodies this corrupt cop with his usual relaxed yet charismatic persona. As a distant relation to the culturally admired yet sickening serial killer Mickey Knox from Natural Born Killers (this time on the ‘right’ side of the law) he lends an aura of likeability, through his unwavering ability to insult with intelligent wit, to an immoral and inhuman law-man. Brown is a creation drawn from such hardened L.A. based characters such as Bud White (Russell Crowe) from L.A. Confidential and Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) from Training Day. With sunglasses hiding his piercing stare and a cigarette constantly hanging from the side of his mouth, Brown is an ancestor of the infamous outlaw character synonymous with the western genre; following his own set of unorthodox rules in a time evolved beyond his services.
Despite all my complaints, I will happily give Rampart credit for putting a new spin on the LAPD-crime genre. Despite Moverman and Harrelson’s efforts, even these titans can’t stop their movie from crumbling under pressure.