PLOT: In 1999 Los Angeles, renegade cop Dave "Date-Rape" Brown (Woody Harrelson) deals with fall-out from the Rampart investigations, with his own misdeeds making him a departmental fall-guy.
REVIEW: Oren Moverman’s RAMPART probably sounds like just another dirty cop flick in the vein of TRAINING DAY or DARK BLUE- which is what I assumed walking into the TIFF screening. Considering that it comes from a script by James Ellroy (L.A CONFIDENTIAL, and one of my favorite books, AMERICAN TABLOID) that’s been making the rounds in Hollywood for a few years now, I figured it would be a dark, gritty actioner, but director Moverman (THE MESSENGER) has something else in mind.
Rather than try to ape any of the dirty cop flicks that followed in the wake of TRAINING DAY and NARC, Moverman takes a distinctly different approach, with this being more of a cinema verité-style odyssey of Brown’s last couple of weeks in the LAPD. Unlike other cop movies, there’s no drug-dealing baddie to deal with, nor is Brown a crime kingpin like Denzel Washington was in TRAINING DAY. Rather, Brown is just your average, work-a-day cop, totally out of place in the new LAPD that was appearing in the wake of Rodney King and the RAMPART scandal.
Brown, as portrayed by Harrelson is something of a dinosaur. A Vietnam vet, he’s subconsciously racist (although he’ll never admit it), far too quick to resort to violence, and not above taking the occasional payout to support his lifestyle. His family arrangement is particularly odd, with him living (and sleeping with) with both of his ex-wives (played by Anne Heche, and Cynthia Nixon), who also happen to be sisters. He has one daughter from each, with the oldest (an excellent Brie Larson) just starting to realize the extent of her father’s misdeeds, when a videotape of him beating a suspect makes the evening news.
However, Brown is not a monster. It’s shown that he truly cares about both his ex-wives, adores his daughters, and is even open-minded about the older one possibly being a lesbian. He’s also presented as a particularly smart guy who did a law degree in night-school (although he failed the bar exam), and is more than equipped to deal with the bureaucrats that want to make him their fall guy.
This is really a showcase for Harrelson, with Moverman pulling the same kind of performance out of him that he did in THE MESSENGER- of which, his former co-star Ben Foster appears, unrecognizable as a brain-damaged hobo dubbed “The General”. Harrelson gets able support from an uncommonly reserved Ice Cube, as the D.A’s lead investigator, who wants to put Brown behind bars. Robin Wright has a good part as one of Brown’s bedmates, with her having more of a connection to Brown’s case than she lets on. Sigourney Weaver also pops up as an IA investigator, surprisingly sympathetic to Brown’s case, which is a more three-dimensional portrayal then they usually get. The long-absent from the screen, Ned Beatty shows up as Harrelson’s mentor, who’s dirty tips lead to Brown’s downfall.
OF course, RAMPART is going to have its critics, with the open, resolution-free ending being a major point of contention among some of my TIFF colleagues. I didn’t have a problem with this, as anyone paying attention will be able to fill in the blanks themselves, and credit is due to Moverman for not spoon-feeding us a forced resolution. Hopefully RAMPART will get to be seen by a wide-audience, as it’s really the kind of role that could put Harrelson back to where he was circa THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT. It worth seeking out once it gets released.
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