Rampart (Millennium Entertainment, R)

film rampart smHe’s a one-trick pony and so is the film, and neither really go anywhere.

film rampart lg

The best compliment I can pay Rampart is to say that it offers a different experience from any other movie I’ve seen recently, an experience quite different from that offered by either the standard Hollywood or indie product. Director Oren Moverman’s film is a character study that never penetrates the psyche of the character in question, but instead is content to show you the world largely as he sees it, and with such visual flair that even clichés like shaky-cam seem not only justified but necessary.

The central character of Rampart is Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a profoundly dirty cop serving in the infamous Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s the late 1990s and Brown, who in a twisted way seems to think he’s a crusader for justice, has been caught on tape brutalizing a suspect. It’s a problem for his superiors, not because of the beating itself, but because the tape has been played repeatedly on television (remember Rodney King?). Compounding the problem, this is not the first time Dave has been suspected of exceeding the boundaries of justice—in fact, Dave’s nickname is “Date Rape Dave,” after a case in which he is suspected of personally dispatching an alleged rapist.

We never know what Dave is really thinking or feeling, because he’s constructed an impenetrable barrier around himself. But the urge to attribute psychological motivations to other people’s observed behavior is almost irresistible, so here’s my take: Dave is one of those people who perceives as a personal insult any attempted check, internal or external, on his behavior. By working as a cop in a poor area of Los Angeles, one with a high crime rate and a largely minority population, he’s been getting away for years with behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in a more affluent/whiter neighborhood. In his own mind, Dave may be the equal of Harry Callahan, but Moverman doesn’t grant him this indulgence. Instead, he shows us Dave as a hustler and bully whose improbable lucky streak may have run its course.

Rampart is full of vivid characters played by an admirable cast of veteran actors, including Sigourney Weaver (playing an attorney), Ned Beatty (a retired cop), Anne Heche (one of Dave’s ex-wives), Cynthia Nixon (his other ex-wife, and the sister of Anne Heche’s character—remember what I said about Dave’s improbable good luck?), Ice Cube (an internal affairs investigator), Robin Wright (a lawyer whom Dave picks up in a bar), and Brie Larson (one of Dave’s daughters, and perhaps the only person willing to confront him with the truth about himself). The performances are uniformly excellent and the film looks great, thanks in no small part to the cinematography of Bobby Bukowski (who also shot Moverman’s The Messenger). Still, it all feels a bit flat, because the script by Moverman and James Ellroy never gives us a reason to care about Harrelson’s character. He’s a one-trick pony and so is the film, and neither really go anywhere.

For all that, I still enjoyed watching Rampart, primarily because of its visual creativity, including a brilliant set piece in the final third. Just don’t go to this film expecting conventional character and plot development, because you won’t find it. | Sarah Boslaugh

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply