Rampart is more than tawdry thrills
Starring Woody Harrelson and Sigourney Weaver. Rated 14A.
Woody Harrelson's performance is so potent as a bad cop gone worse that you remain convinced that he's in a much better movie than Rampart turns out to be. Not that this tale from Israel-born Oren Moverman—who directed the actor in more restrained fashion in The Messenger and wrote this with SoCal grunge king James Ellroy—isn't damnably intriguing in its own right.
It's set in 1999, during an onslaught of real-life scandals involving bribery, extortion, and random beatings by the bully boys of the Los Angeles Police Department—the same mess that backgrounded The Shield on TV. Things centre on Harrelson's David “Date Rape” Brown, an aging Vietnam veteran who views his job as an extension of military life and citizens as the enemy. He's extraordinarily articulate when put on the spot by frustrated higher-ups (as repped by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi). “I'm not a racist,” he explains. “I hate everybody equally.”
Actually, he has notable soft spots for his daughters (Sammy Boyarsky and Brie Larson), products of Dave's sequential marriages to sisters and next-door neighbours (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) he's still hitting on. More commonly, he hangs at an upscale bar, where he pops pills and picks up women who aren't scared off by his nickname—or, like the alcoholic lawyer played by Robin Wright, know that it refers to his rep for killing a serial rapist.
Fellow Messenger Ben Foster is unrecognizable as a wheelchair-bound street person, and Ice Cube plays an investigator looking into big Dave's appalling crimes committed while in uniform. You can tell from the large, well-heeled cast and the startlingly cliché-averse camera work that the movie is up for more than tawdry thrills. As the nastiness piles up, however, it becomes less clear what the filmmaker is trying to say about corruption, let alone redemption. Still, those questions don't really arise while you're watching Harrelson, and he never leaves the screen. In fact, he barely leaves when the movie is over.
Watch the trailer for Rampart.