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Rampart

2012-03-05 13:47
 
What it's bout:

Los Angeles, 1999. Officer Dave Brown is a Vietnam vet and a Rampart Precinct cop, dedicated to doing "the people’s dirty work" and asserting his own code of justice, often blurring the lines between right and wrong to maintain his action-hero state of mind.

When he gets caught on tape beating a suspect, he finds himself in a personal and emotional downward spiral as the consequences of his past sins and his refusal to change his ways in light of a department-wide corruption scandal seal his fate.

What we thought:

The crazy eyes and idiosyncratic drawl of Woody Harrelson are enough to carry the dirty cop study Rampart, but even such powers as those can't make engaging this weary LA noir.

Without Harrelson's inherent intrigue, the heavy-handed provocations of Rampart would be difficult to suffer. But Harrelson's intense and committed performance keeps Oren Moverman's film moving, even while the grim and overdone story wallows affectedly.

Among the dirty cops of movies - Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, Denzel Washington in Training Day - Harrelson's LAPD officer Dave Brown is particularly ugly. He's nicknamed "Date Rape Dave," a moniker he came by from killing a serial date rapist years ago. The name may hint of Brown's most decent side (a protector of women) but it also serves as a frightening warning.

Rampart is set in 1999 Los Angeles and its title refers to a notoriously scandal-plagued police division. The film, which Moverman wrote with crime novel writer James Ellroy (LA Confidential), doesn't try to analyze what led to a corrupt division, but rather the specific formation of a badge-wearing monster.

"How do we solve a problem like Dave Brown?" asks police attorney Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver).

By then, we've already seen Brown lament "Rodney King wannabes," abuse a handcuffed suspect and beat to a pulp a man who had the misfortune of colliding with Brown's cruiser. That incident is caught on camera and replayed on the evening news, sparking protests and an investigation.

"This used to be a glorious soldiers' department," sneers Brown to a mixed-race female officer. "And now it's ... you."

Nice guy, right? At home, we see a softer, complicated side. Brown has two ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, both looking lost) who are sisters and neighbors, with whom he has a teenage daughter (Brie Larson) and a younger daughter (Sammy Boyarsky). It's an incredulous arrangement and we can only be glad, for basic clarity, when the younger girl sweetly asks her father if she's inbred. (He laughs and tells her she isn't and that she's "native.")

The bizarre domestic situation aside, Brown's face genuinely glows around his daughters, surely his only possible pathway to salvation.

But Brown is in a self-destructive tailspin: acting out violently, desperate for departmental cover (Ned Beatty plays a sinister LAPD retiree) and picking up women easily. He approaches one (Robin Wright) at a bar by commenting on her "litigator eyes." Their relationship forms as one based on mutual self-loathing, and Wright is captivating in every moment.

How does he live with himself? Quite self-assuredly, actually. The most interesting quality of Brown is how hyper-literate he is.

He might curse all manner of citizens as "scum," but, when confronted by superiors or lawyers (Steve Buscemi makes a cameo as one), he responds with a torrent of dubious legalese and moral equivocation. He shrouds his behavior in a labyrinth of caginess, defending himself as a Vietnam vet and a true-blue of the old guard.

This is Moverman's second stab at direction following 2009's The Messenger, which also fitted the famously liberal Harrelson in a uniform (as a soldier whose duty is to inform the families of the fallen).

With cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, Moverman's jerky, handheld camera keeps LA always in the background. The first shot is a profile of Brown driving, smoking and stoic behind sunglasses, while Los Angeles passes behind as mere backdrop. The protests over his beating, we never see, just hear.

Harrelson dominates the picture, but the story of Brown's unraveling feels increasingly unrealistic and uninteresting while it circles around ideas established in the first half hour. Instead of leading toward understanding, Rampart remains a dirty cop caricature, more a complaint than a story.


The most corrupt cop you've ever seen on screen.
Read more on:    woody harrelson  |  review  |  movies
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Star Trek Beyond

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o 2012-03-09 01:52 PM
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worst movie ever
Jeanette 2012-03-13 08:38 AM
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Have to agree with o.
 

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