Let me start out by saying Rampart was falsely advertised. Now, this movie didn’t actually get promoted a lot, but the promotions I saw made it look like a cop thriller. I saw the trailer the day before I saw the movie and that’s what I was expecting. Well, it isn’t that at all – not in the least. What this film actually turned out to be, was more of an art-house character study. That’s not a bad thing. I just don’t like it when a movie is sold as something it’s not. Once I figured out what this movie really was, I started to get into it. I enjoy character studies. While Rampart isn’t one of the best character studies I’ve seen, it certainly is a very good one.
It’s Los Angeles, 1999. Officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is a Rampart Precinct cop. He has dedicated himself to taking care of the dirty work in his precinct. Whatever he does, he justifies it by calling it street justice. One day he gets caught on tape beating a suspect. The chain reaction that follows propels Brown into a downward spiral of events that deals with his job and his personal life. Brown doesn’t want to change his ways. His fate rests on the outcome of an investigation that escalates into a department-wide corruption scandal.
The screenplay was written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman. My hopes for the screenplay were very high. This was mainly due to the fact that James Ellroy was one of the writers. He wrote the script for L.A. Confidential. That is one of my favorite movies. He hasn’t written anything since L.A. Confidential – at least, nothing that’s found its way to the big screen that I know of – but this movie gets him back into form. The script is well written. There are some aspects to it that didn’t work for me, though. The basic parts of the character study are all there. We see a dirty cop working outside of the law – a law unto himself. He’s not corrupt – not in the traditional sense. He’s not on the take. He seems to have had his soul corrupted. Actually, he seems to have lost his soul. Or maybe he’s just plain bad. A bad man channeling his badness by doing a good job, or perhaps, as he sees it, a necessary job. There is some inkling of humanity to him. We get glimpses of it in his personal life. The conversations between Brown and an Internal Affairs investigator, played by Ice Cube are revealing and done very well. There are some exceptionally good scenes with an assistant DA – Sigourney Weaver’s character – as well. But, we never do get the big answer. Why is Brown so brutal? What made him this way? Was he just born amoral, or did something happen in his past? This may have been the intention of the writers. Perhaps there are no answers. Maybe this is their point. In any case, what, by far, bothered me the most about the movie was the ending. It didn’t have an ending. It just petered out. There was no resolution.
Oren Moverman directed The Messengers a few years back, which also stared Harrelson. They seem to work well together. Rampart is slow and dark. The atmosphere weighs on you. You feel dirty just watching it. Moverman directs this movie with lots of unusual shots. The pace was off at times. There are about 3 scenes that could be considered action sequences in the movie and they each last about a minute. Many times there would be moments that tried to build silent tension. It was hit and miss on that. I liked the slow pace. Mostly, it worked for this movie. I think it could have been done better, though. The American did this same thing better.
The acting is a major strong point. Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Sigourney Weaver, Ned Beatty, and Steve Buscemi are all excellent. They each deliver great supporting performances. The real star of this movie, however, is Woody Harrelson. I am hard pressed to say this is his best performance. He has been great in so many of his recent movies. But I really have to give it to him; I have to say this is his best performance to date. Harrelson completely embodies his character. The complexity of his character comes through perfectly. This character is not likeable – not in the slightest. Still, you are always fascinated by him. This has everything to do with Harrelson’s outstanding performance.
There have been an ample number of dirty cop movies in the past. It’s a time-honored genre. This has to be one of the darkest and slowest of that genre that I’ve seen. It is all character-driven. Without an actor of Harrelson’s ability, the movie would have suffered. He delivers a compelling performance that elevates this movie to 3 stars in my book. Even so, I had mixed feelings coming out of it. I knew I liked it, but I kept wondering how much. All in all, this was a solid effort and worth the viewing. It was interesting to watch. It was very good. At the end of the film, though, I felt a little let down. I was left wanting more.