Oren Moverman’s follow-up to his 2009 debut The Messenger, starring Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, reunites both actors in a multi-layered drama about corrupt cops in late ‘90s Los Angeles.
Scratch that. Rampart – the name refers to the notorious LAPD division which earned itself a reputation as a hotbed of police on the take – is about just one cop. His name is Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown and he is on a mission. He just doesn’t know what it is.
Dave – his nickname comes courtesy of a rapist he shot and killed – is a mess. He’s a racist, a misogynist, a misanthrope, a bully and a lousy father. He has two ex-wives – both sisters – and two daughters. He’s on the edge professionally and personally. He’s headed for oblivion and can’t prevent it.
Rampart is a courageous film because it throws up questions and then dodges the various possible answers. It gives Harrelson one of the best opportunities of his career, which he does not waste, to present a man slowly rotting from within, whose badge is as tarnished as his soul and for whom the concept of law is but a distant memory. This guy is bad with a capital ‘B’.
Moverman scatters his film with an impressive ensemble cast that includes Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver. Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon are the siblings with a self-loathing ex-husband in common. Ice Cube is an internal affairs officer with his beady eye on Dave.
Anyone familiar with the downward spiral of Michael Fassbender’s sex addict in Shame will see similarities in Harrelson’s pedal-to-the-metal cop in Rampart. Dave is like a pinball, bouncing around out of control but always destined for ‘tilt’. And he’s in denial; everyone else can see it coming.
Rampart was co-written with Moverman by ace crime novelist James Ellroy. Maybe that accounts for the labyrinthine plotting, the multitudinous cast and the deliberate haziness of the story. There are very few tie-ups in a tale that almost demands it.
And therein lies the trick. Stateside reviews have been mixed, with some critics claiming this contains the performance of Harrelson’s career and others mauling the film as ragged, rambling and inconclusive.
It’s certainly subversive, and not an easy watch. It’s a poem about self-destruction and evil. Dave is shrouded in both. Harrelson should be applauded.