Rampart does the near impossible of making a traditional ‘Dirty Cop’ movie feel fresh, insightful and political without being overwhelming. Woody Harrelson has all the natural swag of a chain smoking, womanising, brutal and ethically void policeman playing the lead character with ease. Is he possibly a sympathetic product of his corrupt environment or is he just your average ‘D-bag’. “I am not a racist, the fact is I hate all people equally”.
Dave Brown (Harrelson) is an old fashioned policeman in the tainted Rampart division of Los Angeles Police Department. The late 1990s saw the department accused of widespread corruption and rogue policing in its anti-gang unit. Brown is caught on camera beating a man who accidentally dented his police car in a minor accident. It has to be noted that this was a time before you tube and facebook dominated media, so short videos like these were extremely sensational especially in a period where race relations with the LAPD police were fractured. From angry political activists to senior officials to a scandal hungry L.A media, Brown sets off on a self destructive path into oblivion in the wake of being a scapegoat of a much wider problem.
Brown has some redeeming qualities as do most policemen attached to James Ellroys work or influence. Co-written by director Oren Moverman and James Ellroy, he is complex, unlikable but magnetic. Is he really a genuine racist well no… as a one night stand with a black lady (which includes toe-sucking, hardly the actions of a man ready to join the Ku Klux Klan) in the film suggests. Is he a womanizer well yes… as having two daughters by two different women who are sisters would also imply. Does he have a problem with doling out his own brand of justice yes. Ranging from shooting a serial date rapist to pushing suspects through police station windows would also infer. Harrelson is never off screen which serves to heighten his immense performance. It’s claustrophobic and intense as we wait for Brown to explode. Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Cynthia Nixon, Ice Cube, Ned Beatty and Steve Buscemi all help as a supporting cast bring extra weight to an already heavy atmosphere.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski’s depiction of Los Angeles is humid and as heated as the story itself. It’s definitely highly stylized, fast paced and the non-stop camera stalking of Brown gives us no room to breathe which works perfectly with Moverman and Ellroy’s script. Theres an angry brief mention of Vietnam which eludes to the core of his character that he’s a man whose ideals have not changed but the world has. It’s an interesting, gripping if not sometimes draining look at a lost man.
Von Von Lamunu
Published originally here – http://theblumile.com/2012/02/24/film-review-rampart/