In homage to perhaps Bad Lieutenant, Training Day and even Dirty Harry, Rampart addresses that almost iconic enduring image of the dirty cop that harks back to the days of the Rampart scandal that almost swallowed and enveloped the LAPD in a swathe of investigations that eventually led to the convictions of 58 police officers who were involved in corruption, bribery, drug dealing and even murder in the late 1990′s.
Rampart sees James Ellroy, the word smith behind L.A. Confidential and Oren Moverman the man in charge of the camera for L.A. Confidential re-unite in a gripping tale of drama, suspense, misanthropy, racism, family struggles and heartbreak. Dave Brown, played by Woody Harrelson, is a police officer in Los Angeles at the turn of the century, a turbulent time in the LAPD. Brown can only be described as a man who fears no law and is even a law unto himself.
We see glimpses of his hardened, cold manner in the opening scenes where he bullies a new female officer seemingly for the sake of it when he forces her to finish her lunch time fries when she offers him the remainder. It then cuts to him advising her on a patrol and in the same fell swoop he demonstrates how to intimidate groups of Latino’s by driving straight at them, sirens blaring.
We initially see him cruise the streets of L.A. on patrol,aviators on, almost acting as a type of barrier to the world that he so evidently hates. We are witnessing the demise of a police officer who is a throwback to the old school cop who took names and asked questions later. We later learn his father was a LAPD officer which evidently has an influence on his controversial policing tactics.
Brown outside of work is no stranger to controversy either. He has fathered two children with two women who happen to be sisters and the family unit immediately becomes a distorted arena of potential chaos. The eldest daughter, Helen, is an individual who demonstrates her mistrust of her father several times throughout and also demonstrates an unyielding melancholic attitude towards life. She is played by Brie Larson of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fame and can only expect attention in the future after a commanding performance.
The sisters and mothers of his children, played by Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, ironically both lesbians in the screenplay that is life, have obviously witnessed Browns propensity to create situations for himself that do not necessarily make life easy, being victims themselves of course. Which brings us to the issue at hand. Why is Brown so controversial? His daughter Helen repeatedly refers to Brown as “Date Rape” throughout, a moniker afforded to him after he allegedly murdered a serial date rapist. This establishes his dalliances with trouble.
With the LAPD embroiled in scandal after scandal, Brown while driving is careered by another car and he proceeds to chase down the culprit and use excessive force thus only serving to enhance the LAPD’s tarnished reputation. This happens to be caught on camera and aired on news channels. In an age void of YouTube, Flickr and Tumblrs this inevitably leads to Browns suspicions that this may have been set up by the Mayor and the LAPD to deflect attention from their offices. Displaying an eloquent understanding of the law throughout, alluding to his past failures at the Bar, Brown when questioned on the matter at hand promises to make life difficult when he is approached to make amends for his actions by the Mayor and his superiors. Sigourney Weaver is at best featured intermittently as his superior and Steve Buscemi has a standard bit part as Mayor.
Clearly able to handle himself, Brown when asked has he considered retirement wonderfully executes the script while threatening to use his Vietnam past, legal nous and the chance that he could have a show on Fox within a week to squirm out of the topic. At one stage he even offers to return to the Bar and qualify if forced to leave the LAPD and come back to work for them as their “token fascist”. Legal fees are building and he is fast running out of cash and only sees one way out of it.
Without giving away too much of the plot we see how this potentially likeable character is flawed beyond repair. His actions lead to his ultimate deterioration and character suicide which leads to a DA investigation. Ice Cube attempts to bring the DA agent to life but he fails to ignite any soul in the character and is not convincing and as an actor sadly will never be.
Engaging in illicit behaviour has become a token of this characters framework and his relationship with a DA lawyer, played by Robin Wright is no different to any other aspect of his life. Messy, tainted, controversial, ambiguous and fundamentally flawed. Another cast member who is integral as the homeless man who poses a threat to the livelihood of Brown through being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time, whichever way you see it, is Ben Foster.
At the climax of the film we see Brown eventually succumb to his true characteristics but we also see the broken and lost soul within the character itself. The only flaw for me in the film was the ending which may leave audiences a bit frustrated.
Interestingly Overman, Harrelson and Foster all collaborated on the much lauded The Messenger, which somewhat seemed to pass under the radar this side of the Atlantic and Overman obviously places trust in these masters of their craft. Overman who directed Harrelson in The Messenger also, in which Harreslon was nominated for an Academy Award for his turn as a Casualty Notification officer, has obviously learned how to tap into the dark side of Harrelson and eke out a performance in him that truly portrays that of a tortured and troubled soul. Overman captures the essence of this beautifully and the camera work lends itself to the style of Michael Mann’s Collateral however the director has his own unique touch and must be applauded for managing to wrap cinematic chaos in a blanket of eloquence.