The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Rampart

Reviewed by John Bleasdale.

Director Oren Moverman
Length 108 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 3

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Trailer.

Woody Harrelson follows Richard Gere, Harvey Keitel, Denzel Washington and Nicholas Cage in a role that for Hollywood male actors seems to be the equivalent of the mid-life crisis: the bad cop. Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown is old school LAPD: a uniformed hard-ass, cruising the streets, smoking so much that, in a line from a novel I once read, ‘even when he isn’t smoking, he’s still smoking’. That’s Dave Brown.

His family is an eccentric mess, featuring two daughters, (the youngest adoring; the eldest belligerent) from two different sisters, and all live together in the same suburban house with Dave awkwardly bunking in the annexe. When he fails to worm his way back into one of the ex’s beds, he sharks through singles bars with well-rehearsed moves. He’s an alcoholic with a taste for pharmaceuticals; he’s dirty, earning his nickname through the para-legal killing of a date rapist; and he’s in trouble. After one of his more violent episodes is caught on video he becomes an embarrassment for the already embattled department, who desperately want him to disappear; but Dave is sticking to his guns. He doesn’t want to retire, yet he is beginning to feel that the powers that be are out to get him.

Directed by Oren Moverman, who made his feature debut in the tense nation-at-war drama The Messenger (2009), which also featured a bravura performance from Harrelson, Rampart makes a good kunckley fist of presenting a well-worn story (the TV show The Shield used ‘Rampart’ as a working title and was set in the same corrupt anti-gang unit from which the film takes its name) in an original and intriguing way. The script, written by maverick crime writer James Ellroy, is lucid, clever, and allows Woody Harrelson a lot of scope to surprise with a character who, despite his obvious bigotry and tightly wound aggression, is nobody’s fool. Brown is in no way cowed by the authorities as represented by Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi and a brilliant Sigourney Weaver, going toe-to-toe with them - a master of legalese and self-justification. Weaver is particularly good at giving as good as she gets, and her disappearance midway through the film is a definite loss. Add to this cast of characters the lurking and murky presence of Ned Beatty as a reminder of Brown’s past, and specifically of his father, who is pulling his own strings and seems to only partially favour Dave despite his bonhomie.

Although surrounded by the aforementioned series of high profile cameos - Ben Foster (of The Messenger) and Robin Wright also have substantial supporting roles - Harrelson is the soulless heart and heartless soul of the movie. As a man whose self-destructive lifestyle is finally taking its toll and whose bullying charisma is losing whatever charm it used to hold, there are bizarre traces of Harrelson’s Woody Boyd from Cheers - a ghost of that clear-eyed naïveté; but now a buzz cut allows us to see the skull beneath the skin, and his eyes are desperate and sad. Worse than that, his confidence in his own cocky omnipotence is slipping, and with it his grip on what is after all a dangerous world. Moverman’s camera can be overly tricksy, but when it settles on Harrelson we get a riveting performance - the only problem being, it is one I’ve seen before.

Alternate Take to follow soon…

This review was published on February 27, 2012.