Woody Harrelson has had and continues to have a very interesting and eclectic career. Ever since the mid-‘90s (Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt), the actor has picked roles which are sometimes dark, controversial and not the norm for a Hollywood leading man. His latest film Rampart is further proof of the unique thespian’s tendency to choose unorthodox roles. Filmmaker Oren Moverman reunites with Harrelson who worked together in 2009 with The Messenger. Rampart is another cinematic experience that showcases flawed characters faced with moral and ethical dilemmas.
The film takes place in Los Angeles back in 1999. Police officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is a tough and volatile Vietnam veteran. He treats his police work like he’s still in the military. He is depressed, angry and intimating. He has a shadowy past and his even darker present includes being investigated for racial police brutality. Once the investigation starts, Brown’s life begins to go down an unfortunate crazy path which is full of sex, drugs, violence and most importantly, self-loathing.
Rampart is Woody Harrelson’s show, plain and simple. He is the star here and all of the other actors know that no matter how big they are. Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) and Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube) are individuals investigating Brown. Steve Buscemi plays a politician named Bill Blago. Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon play sisters and ex-wives to Brown named Catherine and Barbara. Robin Wright plays a lawyer named Linda Fentress who is forming a budding romance with Brown.
Brown’s two daughters Helen (Brie Larson) Margaret (Sammy Boyarsky) are quite good in this film but the star supporting performance has to be from Ben Foster who plays a homeless wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet. Foster is very convincing in his role. He is dirty, bald-headed and bearded. His speech is quick and unusual. The 31 year-old actor looks like he’s in his late 40s, truly, truly great.
The subject of Rampart is police corruption and it is a very important issue. With the Rampartscandal in full swing during the late 1990s, this film is aptly named. During this time, more than 70 anti-gang police officers were investigated for misconduct which included shootings, beatings, planting of evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, robbery, perjury, and covering up evidence. This film sheds light on one of the Los Angeles Police Department’s most notorious scandals. The characters on screen are revisiting history and it is actually rather fascinating to watch.
Oren Moverman’s film style here is gritty, dark and realistic. There is a brilliant action sequence that evolves into a crazy chase scene which is utter beauty. The camerawork and lighting both contribute to the tightness and tautness of this moment. This is how chase scenes should look, absolute genius. Many other scenes stand out such as a rainy nightly dip in a swimming pool. Harrelson’s emotion in this scene is priceless. He has definitely proven himself to be a talented actor and this scene is further proof of that fact.
Rampart is not your typical cop drama. It tells the story of a sensitive man, a sensitive man with a gruff exterior. The bulk of the film focuses on Brown and his struggles mainly his struggles with his dysfunctional family but the larger struggle is within Brown himself. He is lost and upset. He is going downhill and the investigation that is trying to expose his racism is exposing dark parts of his soul. We follow Brown as he falls deeper and deeper into darkness. Brown is an unlikable character. There really isn’t much to like about the man. His only redeeming quality would probably be the love he has for his daughters. It is very clear that he loves them and that he is sorry for screwing up the family. He is a man on a mission and that mission is to right the wrongs in his life.