I don’t cheat on my taxes… you can’t cheat on something you never committed to.
Two years after their last collaboration, writer/director Oren Moverman and Woody Harrelson reteam for their fascinating crime-drama Rampart: a sombre, rough film that shows a police officer’s life unravel when he finds himself under close scrutiny.
Harrelson is Dave Brown, nicknamed ‘Date rape Dave’ (referring to an old case) and he’s a thoroughly unpleasant and prickly character. He’s a contradiction: well spoken, charming and intelligent but also a man who indulges his baser instincts, who justifies whatever vulgar actions he commits. When he’s seen beating a man after a car crash it creates a public scandal for the Rampart division of the LA Police force who subsequently leave him out to dry.
Harrelson and the script by James Ellroy and Moverman give Brown some interesting tics: he drinks, he smokes but he never eats and on the occasion he does, he throws up. Brown’s a sexist, racist, myopic misanthrope empowered by his uniform – an old-school cop out of sync with reality.
Much of the film is about Brown not realising (or accepting) that he’s in crisis: desperately hanging onto his job while staving off the impending implosion of his horror show of a family. Marrying two sisters in succession (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche), he has a kid with each one (Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky) and they all live under the same roof with Brown insistent that he’ll take care of them; pumping his ego full of false responsibility and adding to his alpha male persona.
The real truth Moverman reveals is that his bravado hides the emptiness of his life, a vacuum that’s filled with an onrushing suite of booze, sex and drugs. It’s a deep and complex performance by Harrelson.
There are times when Rampart doesn’t make much sense; is a little ambiguous in its relationships and meaning. Brown’s relationship with Ned Beatty’s Hartshorn is a little confusing in conveying the reasons for Beatty’s actions.
In one scene Moverman seems unsatisfied in keeping the camera still, having it pan dizzyingly across the screen to the point where you may well become cross-eyed. The setting (Los Angeles, 1999) feels arbitrary as the film doesn’t make much use of it and the actual Rampart scandal of the 90s will be lost on some. If you’ve seen Training Day, Dark Blue or any other gritty, bad-cop drama then Rampart will feel familiar.
It’s down to Harrelson that you feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Brown as he self-destructs and disappears into an amoral abyss; mired in a pit of self-loathing from which he attempts to dig himself out of, threatening to bring everyone down with him. The last shot of the film emphasises a truth that Brown been resisiting throughout the film: Rampart is a searing portrait of a man who doesn’t seem to have a decent bone in his body.