|Woody Harrelson in Oren Moverman's Rampart|
Woody Harrelson has a talent for looking potentially violent at all times. His character, David Douglas Brown, in Rampart is in every scene of the film and may be remembered by film historians as the role of his career. At the beginning, you find out right away, what a creepy, dirty cop he is. Then you go into his personal life where it feels uncomfortable seeing this man around women and children of an unconventional family who seem to function in spite of him. It is a funny realization that he doesn't bring violence home with him and that these are people he wishes he could be a part of. His sweet younger daughter is the only one with any affection for him and his troubled older daughter seems geared at reminding him he is the same piece of garbage at home that he is to the rest of Los Angeles.
Officer Brown has a reputation for his misconduct. The movie is set in 1999, during public outcry to the anti-gang Rampart scandal which led to the indictment of many violent corrupt officers. Brown seems to continue his rotten behavior and is under pressure to leave a police force that is trying very hard to repair it's reputation.
Harrelson is an ideal actor for the role. Especially in tensely wound-up movies like this, he implies that he's looking at everything and then watching himself looking. His character, Dave Brown, has no moral center, but he has the survival instincts of a rat, and I say that with all due respect for rats. He always likes to know the way out of a tight corner. He knows an angle he can play or a squirm he can call on. -Roger Ebert from his review
This movie has many subjects, but at it's center it is a character study and should rank among the other uncomfortable 'We're stuck with this asshole cop for two hours' type movies like Affliction or both the Bad Lieutenant movies. Brown is a Vietnam veteran, which may be meant to imply that his behavior is that of a damaged soldier but the movie isn't simple-minded enough to jump to any conclusions about why he is such a bad person.
By the end, however, I feels as though Rampart stretches itself a little thin. This is the kind of movie that can't guarantee closure but it seems to be filled with too many slow moving ending scenes when all I could have used was one. Rampart also has a small amount of original score which sounds like the trite uninspiring stuff of common indie movies. It doesn't work against the tone of the movie but doesn't do anything for it either. This movie doesn't need music.
Rampart is very strong with it's superb cast and their performances. The atmosphere is washed out high contrast in it's cinematography. The naturalistic direction by Oren Moverman (The Messenger) is excellent. The screenplay is co-written by novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) who's intense knowledge of Los Angeles Law Enforcement is unquestionable. This movie is the strong result of a strong collaboration.
Here's a cool interview with Harrelson from The AV Club.