Film Review – RAMPART

It is such an exciting feeling to see a film in advance. For some that’s one of the best aspects of a film festival, the premier of something new. As a late entry to the film festival, Rampart has already received great praise and picking up a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Woody Harrelson’s performance. I am a huge Harrelson fan and Oren Moverman’s direction of him in The Messenger was brilliant so it was a given I needed to see this film. So when I got my ticket I couldn’t wait to see what all the buzz was about.

It’s 1999, Los Angeles. Vietnam veteran and Rampart Precinct cop “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Harrelson) is the kind of action-hero cop who feels he can see the line of justice better than those writing the laws. This is a man who needs to be in total control of every situation and if that requires getting physical, he is more than happy to oblige. When his mouth is spewing made-up cases to justify his actions it’s fondling the feet of numerous women. Following two failed relationships with two women who are sisters and subsequent children by each, Brown is the hard-ass father nobody really wants around.

Things begin really going downhill for this renegade cop after he is videotaped brutally beating an African-American to near death. An investigation is launched and all of Brown’s past transgressions surface in a media hailstorm. There is no doubt this is a dirty cop who has become jaded in his 24-year career with the way the justice system works. The only thing that seems to keep him grounded is the admiration of his youngest daughter but as more of his past is revealed it’s clear he can’t hide the sins he’s buried.

Filmed in COPS style, this drama keeps audiences on the edge at any given time. The slightly shaky camera adds to the intensity as it jumps from being in the middle of the action to capturing audio with out of focus video. In one scene the camera begins panning around a room as Brown talks with his superiors about what happened in the video. Chopped together rather than seamlessly flowing the actual sequence begins to induce a sort of dizziness but with good reason. It’s always unclear just how bad a guy Brown is and this effect makes that point realized in a quick and poignant way.

The sheer amount of excess Brown can endure is something almost otherworldly. When around his fellow officers he has established himself as the bad boy with a fastidious interest in people wasting food. However, throughout the entire film he is never shown eating anything at all. The only things going into his body are pills, alcohol and cigarettes. It gets so outrageous that when his daughter wakes him from a nap he immediately draws from a cigarette he lit before closing his eyes. This is a guy that would put John Constantine smoking habits to shame; so much so that one begins to wonder if the day he actually stops smoking might be the day he dies. And through all this excess he still is able to perform with every woman he buys a drink.

Brown is truly an enticing anti-hero that can’t seem to change from the stigma of LAPD’s old way of dealing with criminal types. As Brown admits, he’s not racist, “I hate all races equally.” Unwilling to compromise, apologise and play the bureaucratic game that could get him out of the media, Brown seems to be actively seeking out someone who will snuff him out as he may or not have done to others before.

David Rowley @thedavidrowley

Rating: 4/5

Director – Oren Moverman
Writers – James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Cast – Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver
Release Date – Friday 24th February 2012 (UK& Ireland)

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