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Review: ‘Rampart’ Shows a Corrupt Cop at His Most Paranoid and Flawed

By  · Published on February 10th, 2012

Review: ‘Rampart’ Shows a Corrupt Cop at His Most Paranoid and Flawed

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 sinister character he previously followed in Messenger, he still shows a surprising empathy for a monster of a man.

The film follows Woody Harrelson’s Dave Brown, a former soldier who sees himself as a macho guy, 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 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, keeps your eyes glued to him through his hellish journey LA. The character’s pain and fears and hatred are portrayed with such intensity. 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 overwhelming 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.

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; ; an atmospheric score; delivers quite a punch

The Downside: Some of the camerawork calls attention to itself once or twice.

On The Side: Christian Bale advised Harrelson on how to achieve his gaunt state in the movie.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.