Rampart is co-written by that behemoth of modern noir fiction James Ellroy so our expectations were pretty high. The last film Ellroy had a co-writing credit on was the compromised but entertaining dirty cop drama Street Kings, but this looked grittier and frankly more interesting. It’s a shame that an outstanding performance from Harrelson is one of the few elements that really stands out in Oren Moverman’s second film as a writer/director.
1999. The LA police department is still trying to distance itself from the Rodney King scandal when veteran officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is caught on tape viciously beating a suspect. Beset by money woes, trouble at home, and a deepening sense of paranoia, Dave struggles to stay afloat.
First, the good. Brown is an interesting, contradictory character. He “hates all people equally”. He lives next door to his two ex-wives, who are also sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), and his two daughters. While he loves his family, they may not feel the same way about him, particularly his eldest daughter (a strong turn from Scott Pilgrim’s Brie Larson) He’s a womaniser, a heavy drinker, and prone to fits of violent rage. He’s erudite when he wants to be, especially when he’s being confronted by his superiors. Harrelson captures Brown perfectly, a man capable of being charming but clearly dealing with a great many tempestuous personal issues.
But Brown aside, there’s not a great deal here to recommend. It’s loaded with characters that are well played by a well-stocked cast of characters actors including Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, and Ned Beatty, but none of them are explored in any depth. There’s an underlying conspiracy that’s frequently alluded to but the filmmakers don’t seem to be interested in fully unravelling it, or really exploring the investigation into Dave at all. That we’re drawn into Dave’s plight is due to Harrelson’s performance rather than any real character development. The film is made up of brief snapshots rather than scenes that are occasionally very-well done but they ultimately never add to up to enough and Moverman’s stylistic flourishes are distracting rather than involving. Given the talent involved it’s something of a let-down.
Harrelson gives a stellar turn, and the supporting cast is impressive. The rest of the film, however, is a disappointment.