When a movie about Los Angeles cops is co-written by noir specialist James Ellroy, you know it’s not going to paint a pretty picture. In Rampart, we learn all we need to know about the protagonist, Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) in the first five minutes, and things go downhill from there.
This original screenplay is not based on the notorious Rampart Division scandal that rocked the L.A.P.D., but it does take place in 1999 when that investigation was still current. Even within such a foul atmosphere, Vietnam vet Brown is a one-man cauldron of trouble, a cop who lives by his own, often inscrutable code of behavior. By the time we join his saga (after twenty-four years on the force) he’s running out of friends and protectors.
Harrelson adds another solid performance to his ever-growing rogues’ gallery, but there isn’t much nuance to this character. He loves his two daughters and wants to protect them; that remains his main virtue. And he genuinely believes he is doing “the right thing” out on the streets, even when he bashes heads or uses his firearm.
A superior supporting cast includes Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, and in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo as the mayor of Los Angeles, Steve Buscemi. Ben Foster also appears as a homeless man in a wheelchair; that’s notable only because he co-produced this picture, marking a reunion with Harrelson and Oren Moverman who directed and wrote the fine 2009 drama in which they starred, The Messenger. It’s because I like that film so much that I found this one so disappointing.
I was appalled, in particular, at the awkwardness of Moverman’s direction, repeatedly choosing flamboyant camera moves that distract us from the content of intimate dramatic scenes. It shows no respect for the material.
I hope Harrelson, Foster, and Moverman turn their attention to projects that are worthy of their time and talent. Rampart left me with nothing except regret that I’d invested the time to watch it.