"Despite the films visuals, it's the central performance from Woody Harrelson that elevates this film"
Rampart is the second feature film from director Oren Moverman after 2009’s war drama The Messenger also starring Woody Harrelson who Moverman developed a good working relationship with. Similarly to Messenger, where the filmmakers worked extremely closely with the US army as well as various medical centres in order to gain an understanding of military life.
Rampart is based on true events obviously there are fictional elements to give the film a more dramatic edge but ultimately Moverman again made a conscious decision to work with real stories based on real people and the film works all the more for that reason.
The story in question tells the story of weathered veteran LA cop, Dave Brown, whose methods of policing are to say the least old school, taking great pride in scaring residents with a squawk of his siren and exacting his own brand of street justice. While getting the job done, it hasn’t done any favours with his superiors not to mention his family . Somewhat inappropriately yet it does raise a laugh when first ushered, Dave goes by the police moniker ‘Daterape Dave’ after he shot dead an alleged serial rapist which has given him a certain amount of notoriety in the force.
His life seems to be at a plateau until an incident causes Dave to be filmed on local news beating someone to within an inch of their life with his baton. This single event acts as a gearshift in the film and from here on out Dave's life slowly begins to unravel, his policing methods come under scrunity from a new division called Rampart. In reality the Rampart scandal referred to a widespread corruption within the LAPD in the late 1990’s.
Stylisticly the film has moments of real subtle beauty, I haven’t really seen a film capture L.A which is to all intents and purposes a rather run down, impoverished area but Moverman has captured a real sense of urban beauty with his simple elegant camera work reminiscent of Michael Mann's work on films such as Heat and Collateral.
Shot on a camera called the Alexa which is digital but gives the film a real grainy cinematic quality which works perfectly for the tone of the film. However the bizarre 360 degree dialogue scene involving three characters was frankly dizzying and I spent more time watching the camera spin violently and as a result I really wasn’t paying any attention to the scene itself.
Despite the films visuals, it's the central performance from Woody Harrelson that elevates this film and with awards season coming up it seems highly likely Harrelson will get some recognition for this role. What I love about Harrelson as an actor is his ability to walk a fine line between two very different mental states, he can look placid and calm but you always get that sense that any minute he could throw himself over the edge and this film gives him exactly that opportunity to straddle a personality on the brink of madness. As a character as well, for all his flaws and personality defects he remains an incredibly smart individual, often providing laugh out loud moments as he disarms an entire room with this eloquent, incisive description of things.
Anchored by his slightly unconventional family situation, living with two women he has previously had liaisons with and his two children, these people provide Dave with some sense of hope, that despite everything going on in his professional life there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. Yet as the film progresses, more and more of this peaceful aspect to his life begins to fall apart sending Dave into a vicious circle of decline.
As well as Harrelson, for me one of the stand out performances is from young actor Ben Foster, also from The Messenger. Foster so far in his career has really showed himself to be a real talent, tackling various roles from superhero in X-men: The Last Stand, to vampire in 30 Days Of Night. In Rampart , the good looking Foster is barely recogniseable as the general, a disabled homeless man covered in cuts and bruises with bad teeth and a straggly beard. Bizarrely the more famous supporting cast including Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver seem completely pointless to the story, merely adding a bit of A list glamour to proceedings without really having any depth to their characters.
Daves family play their roles very well, Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche as the put upon ex flames provide strong female voices in an otherwise male dominated world where women are simply objects to a man like Dave. Eventually forcing him out, they and his two daughters both withdraw their affection for this man who they once called dad.
Rampart is a real unique piece of filmmaking, and Woody Harrelson proves himself to be a highly gifted actor of our generation and remains the strongest redeeming feature of the film, however in terms of his character by the end you simply don’t feel bad for him anymore..he has got himself into this situation and ultimately he isn’t a nice person whatsoever and like his character the film offers no real conclusion or ending. I recommend the film, although its arguably not Saturday night fare. This is a sit down, strap in thinking film.