Writer-director Oren Moverman’s terrific feature debut, The Messenger, was about trying not to deal with grief, while his character-driven “cop” drama, Rampart, is about attempting to not deal with everything. The lead of the film, Dave Brown, rejects change in a major time of change. Despite Moverman using his latest film to track a far more morally corrupted character than he previously dealt with in Messenger, he still shows an equal measure of empathy.
The film follows Woody Harrelson‘s Dave Brown, as he confronts both a new time and a new way of life. Brown, a former soldier who sees himself as something of a man’s man, is unwilling to get with the times. With the true-life Rampart scandals serving as motivation, the LAPD is making major changes – ones that Brown won’t (or can’t) go along with. The cop is a sickly, paranoia-driven enigma who (forgive the cheesy as all hell expression) plays by his own nonexistent rules. Dave is stubborn, racist, fearful, and believes that he’s someone important enough to be spied on. He’s a real bastard.
Harrelson, in a tremendous performance, makes one feel something for this narcissistic bastard, though. The character’s pain and fears are easily grasped and understood. Everything Dave touches turns to turmoil. He causes external pain with his work and internal pain with his family. He wants to keep his two lives separate, but they’re both in the same state. How both his family and work life got to that place of damage is left unanswered, as well are most of the questions the film poses. The film plays its cards close to the chest, like Dave Brown does.
Even stylistically Moverman always allows the camera to reflect Dave Brown’s state of mind, albeit to varying success. With the possible exception of one scene, the camera is never on a tripod, is always on the move, and even the color palette is as overbearing as Brown and that Los Angeles sun. When the camera isn’t up close and abrasive, it’s at a far distance, representing Dave’s paranoia. While Moverman was more observant with The Messenger, the director took a more aggressive and dirty approach to capturing Brown, and sometimes that choice is too apparent. However, even when some Moverman’s camerawork doesn’t hit the mark, at least he’s always taking admirable chances.
I’ve seen Rampart three times now, and it’s a film that gets progressively richer. The first viewing made me have admiration for Moverman’s intentions, while not being all-around satisfied. But it wasn’t until my third viewing where I was completely sucked into the filmmaker’s very flawed, but powerful portrait of a seriously damaged man.
The Upside: Woody Harrelson gives a tremendous performance; Moverman avoids tired genre conventions; many questions are thankfully left answered; an atmospheric score; delivers an emotional and thought-provoking punch.
The Downside: Some of the camerawork calls attention to itself once or twice.
On The Side: Dave Brown is not the most corrupt cop you’ll ever see, but he’s unquestionably one of the most human.