You like films about dirty cops? You like to watch them run off the rails doing bad things? You like to watch them make wise cracks as they crack skulls and rob perps while they beat them to a bloody pulp? If the answer to most of these is yes, then Rampart will be disappointing. BUT, if you like intense character studies, low key performances and altogether something a little bit different, go and see it because you will not be disappointed.
This pretty much sums up the overall reaction to rampart, which has been mixed to say the least. Woody Harrelson plays ‘Date Rape’ Dave Brown - a police officer belonging to the LAPD Rampart division - a man who is in control, knows his business and isn’t afraid to cross the line in the name of justice both in aid of the court and himself. Based around the true case of the Rampart police corruption scandal in 1999 that subsequently shut down the department, the film’s director - Oren Moverman - takes us away from the overarching big case story and instead chooses to focus on Dave’s life as it begins to fall apart in the wake of the scandal. The result is a very intimate portrait of a man who is so completely convinced he is in the right that he will go further into the wrong to prove it.
This is subjective filmmaking at its most prominent. Moverman really presents the world as seen through Dave’s eyes, from every argument he has with his family (he has fathered two daughters by two sisters and still lives casually with them) to a mad night in a deranged club (which is one of the best club scenes committed to celluloid). This is just as well, because if this story were to be seen from the outside, Dave would seem like a complete prick. And he is a complete prick, but the subjective filmmaking allows us to sympathise with him…OK maybe not ‘sympathise’, it just makes us hate him a whole lot less.
Harrelson goes full throttle into the performance, right down to the big, butch LAPD walk. He’s hyper masculine, yet charming, yet troubled, yet paranoid and so on and so forth. Moverman and Harrelson have created an incredibly complex character that completely carries the audience through the jumpy narrative - we never really see any of the big events break AS they break, just how they’re filtered down to Dave and how they affect him. There is no clear and concise narrative sequence, which can leave viewers feeling frustrated, but once you get settled into the film you begin to connect the various dots and you can really see how adamant this man is that above all things, he is right.
So, as I’ve said before, this film won’t be for everyone. The almost vignette-like narrative combined with a more intimate and emotional approach that doesn’t have any explosions or car chases will leave many fans of the dirty cop genre (or any other action/thriller for that matter) disappointed. There are some great, straightforward dirty cop movies out there, but not many of them really go into such psychological detail as Rampart, which is definitely a great strength to have. Here is a relatively fresh take on a tired subject that isn’t afraid to delve right into the intimate emotions felt by these people that breaks down the whole myth about the LAPD to reveal that despite their tough image, they are still human.