If it's crap ... We'll tell you
With a penchant for gritty cop drama, screen writer/author James Ellroy (L.A Confidential, The Black
Dahlia) continues his honest yet disturbing writing style for this interpretation of the controversial true story
so insulting its almost ripped straight from one of his coveted crime novels. Rampart's execution however
doesn't do this powerful story justice, failing to provide a satisfying message or understandable pay-off.
Set in 1999, this bizarre tale of true events is based around the slowly crumbling life of notoriously sick
and twisted senior police officer Dave ‘date- rape’ Brown (Woody Harrelson). He is a hurricane blowing
through a dirty, crime-ridden town, as his questionable antics and lack of enthusiasm run him into the
laws he proclaims to protect everyday. Living uncomfortably with two ex-wives and sisters, and his
two precocious daughters, Brown must save them from his own disgraceful crimes. He also contends
with the aftermath of the race war he single handily begins and his run ins with DA investigators,
witnesses, informants, lawyers and an angry mayor; coinciding with his shameful emotional spiral
The screenplay itself, co-written by Ellroy and director Oren Moverman (The Messenger), is clearly
written to be a no-nonsense, thought provoking drama. The magnificent dialogue is full of lines
questioning this period of time in L.A history. "I’m not a racist, I hate all people equally." Brown tells
Ice Cube’s DA investigator as he unflinchingly explains his reasoning for being targeted by anyone
with a different frame of mind. Unfortunately, past the witty yet alluring dialogue moments is a story
which fails to highlight the important issues. The legitimacy of unethical police officers, questioned by
the state of California, is an important part of beautiful yet truly tough crime thrillers such as L.A.
Confidential, the issues important to this point in history are unusually ignored here in favour of character.
Moverman’s direction provides elements of observational documentary film-making for this study of a
heartless anti-hero. The camera keeps moving throughout as pans, tilts and high and low angles
constantly provide a distraction rather than a unique mark of directorial style. The use of colour and
editing tricks however cleverly illustrate the truly degrading fall from grace Brown experiences, as this
hard edged cop gives into all forms of sinful temptation.
Despite wonderfully humorous and compelling dialogue, convincingly illustrating relevant issues from
different perspectives, this film is comparable to other slice of life dramas such as the Michael
Fassbender independent feature Shame, both uniquely focusing on one disturbed character. Rampart
boasts a solid cast, yet fails to develop its characters beyond shallow representations of different
social and political issues. The performances however capture a charismatic allure that make the
characters important on an emotional level, particularly Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche as sisters
and Brown's concerned ex-wives. Ice Cube's turn as DA investigator Kyle Timkins is surprisingly
charismatic. While Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Ben Foster (re-teaming with
Moverman and Harrelson from The Messenger) and Ned Beatty, all in small roles, are convincing
yet fail to make a mark on this alluring yet ambiguous story.
The saviour of his frustratingly ambiguous and unfocused character study is Woody Harrelson.
In every scene, Harrelson strangely embodies this corrupt cop with his usual relaxed yet
charismatic persona. As a distant relation to the culturally admired yet sickening serial killer Mickey
Knox from Natural Born Killers (this time on the ‘right’ side of the law) he lends an aura of likeability,
through his unwavering ability to insult with intelligent wit, to an immoral and inhuman law-man.
Brown is a creation drawn from such hardened L.A. based characters such as Bud White (Russell
Crowe) from L.A. Confidential and Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) from Training Day. With
sunglasses hiding is piercing stare and a cigarette constantly hanging from the side of his
mouth, Brown is an ancestor of the infamous outlaw character synonymous with the western
genre; following his own set of unorthodox rules in a time evolved beyond his services.
Verdict: An alluring yet unfocused crime-drama