Playing a cop is something nearly every actor wants to do, and does, at some point. With the plethora of films involving police officers on both sides of the law, seemingly, it takes a lot for an actor to stand out. Inevitably the modern comparison for any bad police officer is to Denzel Washington in Training Day, who won his second Oscar and established the sort of scenery-chewing standard an actor is supposed to aim towards as a crooked cop. But the better example ought to be Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant in what is a criminally underrated performance as a cop on the take dealing with the consequences of a lifetime spent doing bad deeds. You can add Woody Harrelson’s “Date Rape” Dave Brown in Rampart in that under-appreciated category in Rampart.
When we find Dave he’s in a bit of a pickle of a situation. Sleeping with a pair of sisters with whom he’s also had children with, Dave is a member of the infamous LAPD Rampart Division. The Rampart division was implicated in a scandal in the late ‘90s as part of their CRASH anti-gang unit. Set during the beginnings of a scandal that would eventually cost the city of Los Angeles in excess of $100 million on top of the image problems that have seemingly plagued the LAPD to this day.
Brown is a crooked cop, as crooked as the day is long, but manages to keep his exploits off the news. He’s a decorated cop, having earned his delightful nickname for the shooting of a serial rapist, but is always one step away from being caught and losing it all. Brown’s an old school cop, having earned his stripes over the years, but his methods of law enforcement are clearly excessive in a day and age where police can’t cross that line with impunity. And Dave finally hits that point when he savagely beats a motorist who tried running from the scene of the crime after ramming Brown’s police car. What follows is the deconstruction of his life as he tries to maintain his law enforcement career, balance two households and still try and remain a bit of a dirty cop.
As a character study it’s absolutely fascinating because it’s the rare case of a great actor and a great character coming together seamlessly. Dave Brown is fascinating in that he’s a dirty cop who knows just enough to keep out of jail, and on the force, but has no qualms continuing to be dirty while arguing that he’s far from it. For the film’s opening two acts it’s a really well written character; this is a man on the edge staring into the abyss and not finding the answer he’s looking for. Harrelson is a delight in the role, taking equal amounts of intensity and general craziness into a role tailor made for his abilities. Oren Moverman, who previously directed Harrelson to an Oscar nomination in The Messenger, brings out one of the actor’s finer performances for the bulk of the film’s running time; this is a case of a film being both a character study and actor showcase as well as a case of good story-telling by a director.
The problem begins with the film’s final act. Moverman has painted such an engaging story that there are a handful of ways the film could end and not feel like a letdown. Unfortunately they take a path that leads to nothing decisive; it’s hard to see a character like Dave Brown either get away with it all or end up paying the ultimate price for his sins like nearly every other dirty cop in cinematic history has. He doesn’t get to wind up dead like Keitel in Bad Lieutenant or Washington in Training Day, nor does he get to walk away from it all as a conquering hero like Nicolas Cage in the remake of the Keitel film. The film just ends, for lack of a better word, and as such we don’t get any sort of conclusion. It feels off and this lack of conclusion leaves us with the desire for one. Even a bad attempt at a happy or sad ending would’ve been better than the non-ending Rampart is given.
It’s a shame because Harrelson and “Date Rape” Dave deserve better.
There’s a Featurette about the film which is fairly generic but does give some insight into the film. There’s also a Commentary Track from Director Oren Moverman and Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski.
Rampart is about 70 minutes of brilliance and 37 or so of middling mediocrity. Unfortunately the 37 aren’t bad enough to truly sink the film, nor are the first 70 good enough to overshadow it completely.
Millennium Entertainment presents Rampart. Directed by Oren Moverman. Starring Woody Harrelson, Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Ben Foster. Written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R. Released: May 15, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Ned Beatty, Rampart, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Woody Harrelson