Rampart – Review

Before viewing this film I had no idea what the title referred to. I had to do a bit of digging to find something about it. Rampart refers to a division of the LAPD.  There was a scandal in the late 1990s where more than seventy police officers were involved in widespread corruption. This film is set in the aftermath of the scandal where the main character Dave Brown, played by Woody Harrelson, is the last of the renegade cops still on the force.

Dave Brown is a relic from a bygone era of the LAPD. To all, including his family, he is known as Date rape Dave as he shot and killed a Serial date rape suspect. The film starts with Dave mentoring a new officer, taking them through the daily routine and what is expected of the Police in Rampart. We then move on to his family life. This is as complex as his work life. Over the years he has been married twice and has two daughters. They all live together in commune style with Dave moving from one ex-wife to the other making advances for a bit of bedroom action, usually to no avail. What he does not get at home he seeks out in the local bars and clubs. This is what his life amounts to. Work followed by unorthodox home life, drinking, drugs, smoking, and casual sex. Into this mix a charge is raised against him for a beating on a driver who crashes into his police car then flees the scene. The beating is caught on camera by a bystander and passed to all the local television stations. Cop beats citizens is always big news, especially in rampart so Dave is hauled up in front of his superiors and threatened with charges being raised against him. Dave is a very eloquent and knowledgeable man, having studied law in the past, is able to talk his way out of suspension. Further problems arise from ongoing money issues leading Dave to get involved with ripping off a high roller card game. This goes slightly awry leading to further complications and Dave’s professional and private life threatens to spiral out of control.

Woody Harrelson is seriously impressive in this film. He is in virtually every scene of the movie. It is very much his performance that carries the film. Harrelson really lets go in the role, throwing everything he has got into the performance. I’ve never seen him better than this and I have been an admirer of his work for some time. Usually, he is cast in a supporting role and basically steals the scenes he is in. If every lead performance is on this level then he still has a long career ahead of him. With Harrelson in such form, the supporting cast is left somewhat in the background. This is a     bit of a shame as there are a number of top-notch actors in these roles. Actors such as Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright, and Ned Beatty could have been used to greater effect. This may have detracted from the central performance but it is always a shame to waste such talent.

This film has a very distinctive look and feel. There were very deliberate choices made in shot composition and sound design to echo the unraveling of  Dave’s life. There is a lot of focus changes and harsh repetitive sounds aimed at un-nerving the viewer. There is one memorable scene in a sex club that emphasizes everything that Dave has become and the utter futility of his struggle against his circumstances.

A good portion of the intensity of the film comes from the excellent screenplay of writer James Ellroy.  Best known for his noir-style novels such as LA confidential he gives Dave a voice that is unique and echoes the internal and often external conflict he faces. It feels very like one of Ellroy’s novels with conflicted good/bad characters.

A worthwhile if a bit uncomfortable way to spend a couple of hours. Recommended

John McArthur
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