DIR: Oren Moverman • WRI: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman • PRO: Ben Foster, Lawrence Inglee, Ken Kao, Clark Peterson • DOP: Chr Bobby Bukowski • ED: Jay Rabinowitz • DES: David Wasco • Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Bernthal
The story of Rampart is the story of corruption itself. Woody Harrelson plays ‘Date-Rape’ Dave Brown, a hard-drinking LAPD officer who lives by his own set of morals and ethics – or rather, his lack thereof. Dirty cops aren’t a particularly new topic in films. It is, however, strange for them to be front and centre in a film. That being said, it makes for an engrossing experience. Brown is embroiled in a scandal involving police brutality. Caught in the lens of the media, his life slowly begins to spiral out of his control as he attempts to put right what he perceives as an injustice dealt upon him. His methods becoming increasingly violent and extreme, culminating in a botched armed robbery that sets the story in motion.
The plot is surprisingly straightforward for a James Ellroy-penned script. This gives it a primal drive, much like Harrelson’s character – single-minded, bull-headed and utterly ruthless. Harrelson gives a performance not seen since Natural Born Killers. He is a monstrosity; lascivious and gluttonous in his pursuits of women and drugs. Much like his performance in Natural Born Killers, his character is working under the assumption that he is judge, jury and executioner – that no law will hold him. This is a topic that is not uncommon in James Ellroy’s previous work, although the distinction here is that the consequences are more prevalent and are being meted out by authority, instead of being covered by them.
The direction of the film is impressive. Oren Moverman, director of the criminally-underwatched The Messenger, uses Harrelson effectively in each scene that he’s in. The photography varies between hand-held and neon-drenched cityscapes à la Michael Mann, with a range of colours and sequences not seen in Moverman’s previous work. The supporting cast, made up of Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster and Anne Heche, are all admirable and worthy of note. Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, particularly, are of note. Playing Harrelson’s ex-wife and sister-in-law respectively, both women are adroit at giving him a human side. Without them, he’s a one-sided fascist with no remorse of any kind. Ben Foster is almost completely unrecognisable as a homeless man who witnesses one of Harrelson’s transgressions. The film is held up and carried by Harrelson. His performance is electric and is on par with Denzel Washington’s role in Training Day. Where Rampart deviates from Training Day is that there is no upstanding police officer to balance it all. Here, everyone is equally accountable for the corruption that permeates through the system. From Sigourney Weaver’s pragmatic lawyering, telling him that ‘LA can’t afford you anymore’, to Robin Wright and her under-handed tactics at getting Harrelson on-side, it’s clear that Ellroy’s script is one that is honest in its portrayal of the realities of the modern-day legal system. Where the film falls down is its ending. The story is left unresolved and open-ended. This could be paving the way for a series of films or it could be that people like Woody Harrelson’s characters often escape justice. Either way, it’s unsatisfying – but, thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film. Rampart is a searingly detailed account of a life corrupted.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details) Rampart is released on 24th February 2012