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.