RAMPART Review

It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to Oren Moverman's second film as I was truly affected by his first, 2009's "The Messenger". In that film he pulled out of Woody Harrelson a great performance that helped cement the actor as a serious talent that had been missing from his reputation for some time. He does so again with "Rampart" in which Harrelson plays the character at the heart of the film and portrays a cop that has been dirty since day one with such arrogance and blind self-deception it is as if the actor went out and not only did his homework, but he in fact became the man he was playing on screen. As police officer David Brown, Harrelson portrays a man lost, living day to day hoping to find some kind of relief to what his life has actually become. It is an electric performance that keeps the well made film above your average cop drama. Moverman is a pro at taking genre films and turning them on their heads and as he did with the military drama in "The Messenger" and as his writing displayed in "I'm Not There" with the music biopic he is again able to take the worn dirty cop drama and pull out honest insights rather than following a standard structure. "Rampart" is certainly not for everyone as it displays a constant darkness in what is essentially a character study, but it is nothing short of engaging and Harrelson delivers an award-worthy performance.

Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is notorious
for making a scene.
The story is rather straightforward and simple as it mainly focuses on the man that Harrelson is portraying. As it does we are introduced to the many facets of Dave Brown's life as he lives with two different women who have each given birth to a daughter that belongs to Brown. One is young enough to still look up to her daddy while the other is in her rebellious teen years, sports the dark eyeliner and colored hair while painting art that is provocative and by provocative I mean it probably has no deeper meaning than the fact writing the "C" word on top of images is slightly appealing to the adolescent mind. In short, the teen resents her dirty cop dad. She believes she sees him for who he really is and it doesn't help he swings between her and her sisters mothers looking for physical satisfaction. The mothers, as portrayed by Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche have little to do other than kick Dave out of the house once he's slipped so far into his own delusions of self-grandeur that it is hardly bearable. The odd thing about "Rampart" is that while it begins by setting up Dave with a scandal when he violently beats up a civilian who collides with his Police cruiser on the LA streets; it doesn't exactly follow this storyline through. Sure, it gets his juices flowing, his paranoia heightened and leads to the actions that we see play out over the course of the film. What it doesn't do though is follow the investigation into his crime and through to the court room as most police dramas might. No, "Rampart" is a beast with a burden all it's own thus making it all the more engaging as we watch our main character fall apart.

Dave tries to connect with one of his daughters...
What might lead a man to a meltdown is a pool of endless possibilities when it comes to being a dirty cop. The funny thing about Dave "date rape" Brown, as he is so lovingly called by his peers, is the fact it doesn't seem to be his conscious catching up with him. As a matter of fact, the more people he comes in contact with, the more relationships he forms, it only feels like he is digging himself a deeper hole. The film presents us with a lead character we could hardly call a protagonist. It is literally like watching a film entirely from the antagonists perspective and while this makes it impossible to root for our hero to swoop in, save the day, and deliver a perfectly packaged conclusion. Brown surrounds himself both at work and in his personal time with people who clearly resent him. He becomes entangled with lawyer Linda Fentress (Robin Wright) who he overstays his welcome with, who is enticed by the man on the TV but is quickly regretful of her choices. His father's old friend on the force Hartshorn (Ned Beatty) still seems to have a good amount of influence with the LAPD and while their friendship seems the only bright spot of hope in Dave's life for the longest even that friendship is tested and comes to the most brutal of  boiling points in the film. This on top of the fact that at work he openly despises those who work in rampart as he has a constant war of words going on with Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) and Bill Blago (Steve Buscemi) as well as private investigator Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube) who in trying to make deals with he ultimately pisses off more. The idea that Dave almost relishes in the corruption of his authority and morality in general makes all these self-imposed conflicts just as psychologically interesting as they are terrifying and thrilling to watch him carry out on screen.

...while using any resource he can to try and dig himself
out of trouble.
"Rampart" is such a study of character we almost come away from the film with nothing more than the trip into his mind rather than a traditional story of lessons learned from choices made. The fact Moverman can go the length of a feature without having to depend on a standard structure is a little jolting but even more impressive. As his what feels like effortless direction combined with the dedication of Harrelson's performance make for an electric movie that chronicles not just the actions but the way its main character thinks and inevitably makes decisions that have brought his career to this point and even still as the controversy of Brown's latest incident seeps through his department and into city hall, this hardened, reckless officer finds himself digging an even deeper hole. There is a point in the film where Dave comes in contact with a homeless vet as played by Harrelson's "Messenger" co-star Ben Foster. Foster is a talented young actor who favors the darker, supportive roles and in his few scenes here we see the ugliest of Brown's traits emerge. There is a plague that hits us when we see Brown take advantage of Foster's character that helps define everything we have seen him do before culminate into a point where we have had enough of the man. The bad intentions, the heartlessness, and ultimately selfishness of his actions will come back to haunt him. We all know it and he probably does too, but it doesn't mean he is going to change. Harrelson makes that clear in every inch of what he portrays on screen. As terrifying as a man like this might be in real life, on screen, it is exhilarating and "Rampart" hits most of the wrong notes in the best kind of way.