22 Dec

Title: Rampart
Year: 2011
Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy and Oren Moverman
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi, Brie Larson
MPAA Rating: R, pervasive language, sexual content and some violence
Runtime: 108 min
IMDb Rating: 6.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Metacritic: 67

The streak keeps on living, so bear with me about this for a while right now because I’ll say it again. I’ve been stating that I love this time of year because it’s when the truly great movies (those that I grade an A-, A or A+) come out, and when you get the chance of watching two or three of them in a row. Considering that on Monday night I watched The Artist (an A+), and yesterday I watched both My Week with Marilyn (an A) and A Dangerous Method (an A-) I was at a streak of three that hadn’t happened in over four months. With Rampart, that streak of great films I’ve gotten to watch in a row hits four, which hasn’t happened since the period from January 11th to January 26th, two weeks in which the only four films that I saw were great: L’Ilusionniste (an A-), Another Year (an A), Blue Valentine (an A+) and Biutiful (an A), all late-2010 releases. So yeah, like I said, this is a great time of the year to watch films.

Rampart comes from Oren Moverman, a guy who in 2009 delivered his debut film, The Messenger, which I ranked as the 31st best of that year’s slate of films. A film that established him as a really strong voice, earned him an Oscar nomination for his screenplay, as well as a Supporting Actor nod for Woody Harrelson’s indelible performance as Captain Tony Stone. Now, for his sophomore debut behind the cameras, Mr. Moverman reunites with Mr. Harrelson, who will be trying for a darkhorse entry to the Best Lead Actor category, as well as with Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi, and adds a lot of really talented people around them like Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright.

The result is a film that’s pretty damn exceptional. One that surely won’t be for everyone, as the dirty cop that Mr. Harrelson plays here is too hard to root for for you to really get behind it all, but his performance is so fearless that you’ll get sucked in and even if you don’t like the guy you’ll be plenty interested in what comes as consequences for his actions. The screenplay was written by both Mr. Moverman and the great James Ellroy, a guy who in his novels has been known to toy with historical accounts to create gripping works of fiction. In here we’re thrown into the Los Angeles of 1999, when the anti-gang unit of the Rampart division was marred with allegations of being corrupt, of dealing drugs on the job.

Dave Brown is the corrupt cop Mr. Harrelson plays here, probably the dirtiest officer I’ve ever seen on-screen ever, without a single redeemable quality, just thoroughly unlikable, a guy who probably doesn’t even realize just how wrong the stuff he’s doing is. He drinks, womanizes, pops pills, is incredibly racist, manipulative like crazy, cruel to the bone. It takes a really great screenplay to be able to make a film with this leading character work, and while it’s not as though Mr. Moverman and Mr. Ellroy wanted you to start liking Dave, they did make him human and not just a monster, and as such the film becomes an exploration of his character, and it’s a thrill to watch develop. He’s the kind of monster that can get away with it because he has charisma, a quality that made Mr. Harrelson a perfect guy to play him, and because he’s also terribly smart, a guy who went to law school and probably uses the knowledge he got from there to get out of more than a few sticky situations.

Rampart doesn’t concentrate at all on the real-life scandal it’s based on, but instead on the stuff, professional and personal, that led these cops to actually do stuff like that, to get the anti-gang unit of the LAPD become a gang all of its own. In Dave Brown it finds the man with which to channel all it wants to say about this world, a sick man in an even sicker world. He’s a guy with a family, actually, two daughters that come from two mothers, played by Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, who are actually sisters themselves. He’s married to neither, but the dysfunctional family still lives in neighboring houses and Dave will more often than not try to charm his way into one of his ex-wife’s beds, or go to a bar to pick someone else up if that fails. A lot of stuff goes wrong for Dave, it’s not just one particular incident, but the one that really amps up the heat is when a video of him beating a suspect to near death comes up. That gets the DA’s office on his ass, which means we get to see Ms. Weaver rocking it as part of that team, she’s great here.

It’s incredible how Mr. Moverman observes the crumbling down of this man; not only is the performance by Mr. Harrelson truly outstanding, but the way the whole thing is shown, with a great use of color and great sound and image editing, makes you really experience his breaking down as he can’t get his shit together. Like I said, Rampart may not be for everybody, but what’s undeniable is the talent of Oren Moverman, a guy with a vision and a guy who really knows how to get his actors to dig into their roles. Just look at Woody Harrelson here; this may be the best performance we’ve ever seen of him, he’s raw and intense like crazy, but somehow manages to make Dave human, he doesn’t get us to sympathize with him because it’s too late for that, but he gets us to be interested about the things he cares for, and that he’s now realizing, way too late, that he’s pretty much totally destroyed.

Grade: A-


One Response to “Rampart”

  1. youjivinmeturkey December 22, 2011 at 9:18 am #

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