Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Film Review: Rampart

Certificate: 15 (pervasive language, sexual content and some violence)
Directed By: Oren Moverman
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi
Budget: $ n/a
Runtime: 108 minutes
Trailer: Watch

After Woody Harrelson's clusterfuck 'Ask Me Anything' session on Reddit you might wager that its subsequent disastrous showing at the US box office might have had something to do with the self-proclaimed hive mind boycotting the movie. It is a strange one. Certainly the quality of Rampart isn't in doubt, featuring an absorbing series of events and strong performances all round, particularly from new internet boogeyman Woody himself.

Long serving law enforcement officer Dave Brown (Harrelson), or 'Date Rape' as he's affectionately nicknamed in his precinct, is a member of the corruption-riddled 'Rampart Division' in late nineties Los Angeles. When Dave is caught on tape beating a man who rammed his cruiser he vows to clear his name. However, when his vast legal costs begin to take their toll, Dave descends even deeper into malfeasance.

To cops like officer Brown, the sun-kissed streets of LA are a warzone where the racially motivated long arm of the law routinely plants evidence and lines its own pockets. It is a view of turn of the century America well worn in movies, based on the real world resentment against the police which manifested with the 1992 LA riots when four LAPD officers were acquitted after being filmed beating African-American motorist Rodney King. The thrust of this film is the self-affirmation of this conviction, loosely based on another scandal surrounding the real-life Rampart Division in which our anti-hero here is placed.

If anyone were to embody the 'values' of such improbity it is Harrelson's misanthropic 'Date Rape', a scumbag in every sense of the word. Bizarrely he lives with his two exes who both happen to be sisters and who both have a daughter by him. As he sits having a family meal chain smoking he whispers sleazy come-ons to both sisters, proceeding only to drink more and more. Despite being beyond redemption, it is nonetheless a masterful performance and one which takes precedence over plot as we're treated to Harrelson's presence in every scene. He is a man assured that the world is a jungle which can only be survived if you're a badass lion. An old school cop, one of the few which he proudly states "gets it". But what's fascinating is that he doesn't, repeatedly doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.

While it is absorbing to watch this character delve into debt and despair as he tries to dig his way out a hole, this unfortunately leaves the rest of the plot rather bare bones. Stylistically Rampart is also rather unusual, featuring discorded cuts and odd camera angles portending to be some sort of art house flick. The whole experience is rather jarring which ruins some potentially great scenes, particularly one where Harrelson, Weaver and Buscemi are gathered round a table. Likewise, the main focus on Dave means these actors disappointingly don't get much time to work their talent.

Tales of dirty cops aren't a new thing, and certainly Rampart doesn't revamp this murky premise either. While sacrificing narrative momentum, what it does do however is film a familiar yarn in peculiar fashion, bringing out a potent performance from old Woody in what might be the most impressive of his career.