By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Rampart could just as easily have been titled “Rampant,” because that’s how the corrupt main character runs.
He’s a renegade LAPD cop, played by Woody Harrelson, and he has patrolled the crime-riddled streets of Los Angeles for nearly a quarter of a century in this tortured character study.
Rampart is a portrait of the downward spiral of this one cop in 1999, when charges of police brutality are being leveled at the scandal-plagued Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
And thanks to the department-wide corruption scandal, this rampart’s being watched, and it is very definitely not gallantly streaming.
Harrelson stars as Officer Dave Brown, a Vietnam vet and Rampart Precinct cop who has been known to take the law into his own hands, and then some, after what he perceives as any failure of the court system to exact justice.
When he gets caught on videotape viciously beating a suspect to near-death senselessness — à la Rodney King, whose plight may have helped inspire the otherwise fictional script — suddenly everyone is aware of his reputation. After all, his nickname in the department is “Date-Rape Dave,” a result of his having eliminated if not killed a date-rape suspect under suspicious circumstances.
The cocky, bullying, extralegal Brown breaks the rules at home as well, as demonstrated by his two ex-wives, played by Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche. He cheated on each of them, has a daughter with each of them, is divorced from both of them, and still lives next door to both of them.
And his older daughter has accused him of being “homophobic, chauvinistic, racist, and violent.”
Not only have his ex-wives accused him of ruining his daughters’ lives, but the LAPD’s lawyer (Sigourney Weaver) calls Dave in to tell him of the embarrassment he has caused the already embattled department.
And a retired cop, his ex-mentor (Ned Beatty), may be about to switch allegiances, while the district attorney (Steve Buscemi) and an internal affairs officer (Ice Cube) are grilling him as well.
And not only are Dave’s departmental superiors on his case, but the press is pressing as well.
Only Robin Wright, as a defense attorney whom Dave meets in a bar and hooks up with, and Ben Foster (Harrelson’s co-star in 2009’s The Messenger and one of this film’s producers) as a homeless paraplegic, don’t seem to be closing in on him.
Or are they? Then maybe he’s just paranoid.
Director Oren Moverman, who got a strong, Oscar-nominated performance out of Harrelson in The Messenger, co-wrote the screenplay with crime novelist James Ellroy (LA Confidential) based on a story by Ellroy.
But after the one-note script establishes the essence of the glib, sociopathic, self-destructive, antiheroic protagonist with his severely warped code of justice, the film becomes tiresomely repetitious, then loses its way in the late going by piling on the subplots and implausibilities and generic clichés in bunches.
Perhaps the material is too familiar. Perhaps we’ve seen too much dirty-cop drama down through the years, vividly in films like Bad Lieutenant and Training Day. Perhaps we just need a different kind of compensation for spending this much time with this kind of guy, no matter how well he’s portrayed.
Whatever it is, over the course of the film, there’s something counterproductive about watching the central character play bad cop/bad cop over and over again.
So, despite an electrifying, fully committed turn by Harrelson that reminds us of his impressive dramatic work — to say nothing of plenty of skilled comedic work in films and on TV — in such films as Natural Born Killers, Indecent Proposal, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Thin Red Line, and No Country for Old Men, his work here remains a great performance in a not-at-all-great film.
So we’ll corrupt 2 stars out of 4 for the cynical crime thriller Rampart, a decidedly downbeat and problematic police drama elevated by Woody Harrelson’s arresting performance.