Rampart

April 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster
Directed by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and James Ellroy (“Street Kings”)

As Helen (Brie Larson) unleashes a litany of loathsome characteristics about her father Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), it’s clear that her opinion is something that has been building up for a while. She tells him he’s a racist, a bigot, a sexist, a womanizer, a chauvinist, a misanthrope and homophobic. Brown’s reaction? A smirk, and a simple reply of, “How long did it take you to rehearse that?” Incredibly enough, all of those descriptors are accurate, as Harrelson handily takes on a challenging role in “Rampart,” an intense character study of a corrupt LAPD cop.

In the wake of the Rampart Scandal of police corruption in the LAPD seen in the late 90’s, “Rampart” follows veteran Officer Dave Brown through a series of scandals and destructive family issues. After an excessive beating of a man who crashes into his car is caught on tape, the corrupt cop finds himself the subject of an investigation. As things continue to get worse for hi, his already strained relationship with his family becomes worse and the future of his career comes into question as he refuses to tone down his violent and questionable policing methods.

Very early on in the film, it becomes clear that “Rampart” was intended to serve as a showcase for Harrelson’s acting, and he certainly delivers. It is a dynamic and committed performance that Harrelson attacks from the get-go by displaying violent tendencies and spewing racial slurs without thinking twice. Even further, Harrelson looks the part as he nails the cop demeanor perfectly and his emaciated facial features (Harrelson lost 30 pounds for the role) give the impression of a hardened and weathered officer. Harrelson is also able to show a wide emotional range in this film, especially as he becomes more tortured as the film progresses. While the rest of the supporting cast is filled with strong veteran actors, they merely float in and out of Harrelson’s world. The best of the supporting performances come from Robin Wright who plays love interest and attorney Linda Fentress and the previously mentioned Larson who plays his rebellious daughter.

Following up his critically acclaimed debut film, 2009’s “The Messenger,” director Oren Moverman returns with a series of perplexing decisions at the helm of “Rampart.” From beginning to end, there are a lot of technical aspects of the film that make it seem choppy and haphazardly put together. Many scenes end abruptly, cutting off randomly at unnatural stopping points in conversations. One scene in particular makes use of a slow, panoramic, and patchily pieced together series of shots of multiple people having a conversation that comes off far more distracting than stylish.

While the film is a very fascinating character study of a morally skewed cop, screenwriters Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy (“LA Confidential”) tend to neglect the narrative angle of the screenplay. The events of the scandal that Brown finds himself embroiled in and his interactions with underdeveloped supporting characters often seem inconsequential and dull. As things escalate and spiral out of control for Officer Brown, it is the strength of Harrelson’s performance and not an investment in where the story is going that keeps “Rampart” engaging.

Street Kings

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie
Directed by: David Ayer (“Harsh Times”)
Written by: James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), Kurt Wimmer (“Ultraviolet”), Jaime Moss (debut)

If the name David Ayer is anywhere in a film’s credits, it would probably be safe to say the theme of the movie is going to revolve around corrupt cops. In his new film “Street Kings,” the director hands over the writing responsibilities (even after he did such a great job with 2005’s “Harsh Times”) to a trio of screenwriters who fail to understand the meaning of multilayered characters.

In the last seven years as a writer, Ayer has given us “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Harsh Times,” the last of which he was credited as both a screenwriter and first-time director. Now, in his sophomore film, Ayer’s lands some solid punches with the boys in blue, but doesn’t give us enough depth from the main and supporting characters. In “Training Day,” he transformed Denzel Washington into a crooked LAPD detective, a role which landed him his second Academy Award of his career. He also gave us an incredibly unique character study with Christian Bale as an ex-Ranger turned police officer in “Harsh Times,” one of the most overlooked performances of that year.

In “Street Kings,” the story follows LAPD vice detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves, who has come along way in the acting department since hamming it up most of his career), a trigger-happy cop whose on the right side of the law, but likes to do his job more like a renegade instead of a police officer. Think Russell Crowe’s Bud White in “L.A. Confidential,” which was also written by James Ellroy. Basically, he’s the jury, judge, and executioner.

When Tom uses his brute techniques to wipe out a couple of Korean kidnappers, he is thrust into the L.A. limelight as a heroic cop moving up in the ranks. Although his commanding officer Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) likes the way he does his job, others, like Tom’s former partner Terrance Washington (Terry Crews), let internal affairs know there’s a guy on the force that isn’t exactly on the up and up. Now internal affairs officer Capt. James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) is watching Tom’s every move, which, of course, makes Tom want to confront his ex-partner for ratting him out.

During the confrontation, which takes place in a local convenient store, Tom and Terrance find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time as they are ambushed by two masked gunmen who fill Officer Washington’s body with machine-gun ammo before Tom even knows what’s happening. But with the history between the two officers, Tom isn’t in the most ideal place, especially with Capt. Biggs asking questions.

Capt. Wander and the rest of the department, however, quickly step in to clean up the mess. “We can’t afford to lose you,” Wander tells Tom. “You’re the tip of the spear. Who’s going to hold back the animals?” Thus, corruption begets corruption and so on as Tom attempts to steer clear of Capt. Biggs and search for Terrance’s killers.

Unintentionally funny at times, “Street Kings” is a complex story with unrefined characters. With an entire cast basically playing bad or dishonest cops, there’s no real sense of conflict even between the cops and the thugs in the ghetto. And what fun can be had when everyone is on the same team? Even with semiautomatics, the story sputters in the film’s final anticlimactic act and quickly turns from complex to comical.