DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Rampart

Monday 20 February 2012


Rampart (2011) dir. Oen Moverman
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ice Cube, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver


By Alan Bacchus

Dave Brown is a despicable human being, an old-school LAPD cop – the Rodney King-beating/Mark Fuhrman type known for outrageous racism, heinous corruption and all around overly aggressive, inhumane policing tactics. Under the hardboiled pen of James (LA Confidential) Ellroy and Oren (The Messenger) Moverman's concerted directorial style, Rampart becomes a character study of an anti-hero to the extreme.

While it's an admirable second film after Moverman's acclaimed and slightly precious The Messenger, it has the misfortune of being closely linked in theme and tone to Bad Lieutenant, albeit a much softer version than both Abel Ferrara's and Werner Herzog's insane films.

It's 1999 and Dave Brown is introduced as a shithead LAPD cop who's constantly being reprimanded for his bad behaviour. He's a member of the controversial 'Rampart' division known for its questionable policing tactics, and specifically for Brown, an incident involving the cold blooded killing of a serial date rapist. This is the last time we'll ever think of Brown as a heroic vigilante.

After a car accident Brown goes bonkers and beats the driver to near-death, an incident caught on camera and thus made public. As he tries to negotiate his way around that shit storm, he somehow charms and beds a hot lawyer (Robin Wright). Covert advice from a retired cop and former colleague of Brown's father results in more bad decisions, as Brown descends into hell, a snowball effect of violence and corruption he just can't get out of.

While intended not to fit into traditional forms of narrative drama, the film seems to neither commit fully to an Abel Ferrara-style Alice in Wonderland journey for his character nor the intricate noirish-style plotting we know from Ellroy's LA Confidential. These two movies fight each other, resulting in a mostly confused state for the viewer.

We're supposed to notice Woody Harrelson as a monstrous anti-hero, but everyone seems to be trying so hard to get him an Oscar nomination. We never sympathize with his character even though he seems to find continued support from his friends and family.

What never fits into the puzzle is that Dave is a charming pick-up artist who can bed women at will. He is seen picking up numerous beautiful ladies, including Robin Wright, yet he has no charm or grace – only red flags taped all over his body that say STAY AWAY!

The subplotting of Dave's two children born from two sisters (Heche and Nixon) and yet still living in the same house is an outlier that could have been its own movie. But here it’s just more unnecessary complication to confuse us.

And the film just ends as if they ran out of story to tell, or that there wasn't one in the first place. This is the kind of picture we may come to appreciate years down the road if Moverman turns into someone like a Martin Scorsese, when we can appreciate its place in some kind of iconic career filmography. But for now it's just an unfocused pale version of Bad Lieutenant.

Rampart opens this Friday in Canada from eOne Films.

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