Giovanni's Movie Review: RAMPART

Director Oren Moverman offers an insightful take on the fictionalized notion of absolute good vs evil in his second feature film, Rampart. This complex cop drama comes at a socially relevant time closely following the Occupy movements, a time when police have once again been villainized for their response to the countrywide protests. This film posed the question if police officers who are accused of brutality really be painted as “bad guys” if they genuinely believe their actions are justified?

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Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), the LAPD officer at the center of Rampart, is in a tough situation. The former Vietnam veteran has served on the police force for 24 years, continuously employing morally questionable methods on criminals. He’s even gained himself the nickname Date Rape Dave for killing a suspected serial rapist. But after nearly beating a man fleeing from a hit-and-run to death, Brown comes under investigation for his brutality, his actions even deemed as a possible hate crime. As his career begins to come apart, so does his already complicated family life, sending the officer into a classic downward spiral.

The main reason the film succeeds is due to the complexity of Brown’s character. Moverman and James Ellroy’s screenplay fully develops Brown, never painting him as a clichéd “crooked cop”. Instead, he feels like an incredibly conflicted man, jaded by decades of dealing with the worst humanity has to offer. His actions are questionable, but he thinks he’s serving the greater good so it’s difficult to write him off as a bad guy. Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast in the role. He gives Dave an equal amount of hard-boiled attitude and emotional sensitivity. It’s a wonderfully sympathetic performance that evolves through the entire course of the movie as Brown struggles more and more to keep his life on track.

But while the centerpiece is perfectly set into place, everything around Harrelson is much less stable. The film actually features a surprisingly large ensemble, but very few of those characters are ever efficiently developed. Most of them are vague set pieces meant to push the investigation plot forward. Big name actors like Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi are reduced to glorified cameos, appearing in two or three brief scenes to scold Brown. Perhaps the strangest side character is the romantic interest, Linda (Robin Wright), whose relationship with Brown is downright bizarre. Wright plays the role well, but the character herself is oddly written and her feelings towards Brown never really make sense. These character issues cause most scenes that pull the focus off of Harrelson to drag, weighing down a great character study.

The jarring editing, consisting of many scenes ending abruptly or stopping big emotional moments prematurely, contributes to a lack of cohesion throughout the film. From a technical standpoint the majority of the film is tight and effective thanks to cinematographer Bobby Bukowski; but he does throw in a handful shots that are terribly out of place with the film’s gritty handheld aesthetic making these decisions feel like odd experiments. These moments, while brief, are stylistically alien and distracting from what’s happening on screen.

Rampart may not be as gripping as Moverman’s excellent debut, The Messenger, but it’s still a respectable film that showcases the filmmaker’s strengths in creating emotionally complex characters stuck in morally complicated situations. Rampart’s core is rock solid, thanks largely to Harrelson's dynamic performance, but there’s still a lot of room for Moverman to sharpen his craft both as a writer and director.

3.5 Stars

Also starring Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Nixon, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, and Ned Beatty, Rampart is directed by Oren Moverman and scheduled for wide theatrical release on January 27, 2012.

The last of the renegade cops, LAPD officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is caught on tape “doing the people’s dirty work” and finds himself at the center of a vicious scandal. The days of being above the law are over. Now a poster boy for police corruption, Dave learns he’s been targeted by cop killers looking for revenge. Nothing is what it seems as Dave descends into the L.A. underworld and exacts his own brand of justice.