The trailer for Rampart promises that, “Woody Harrelson is the most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen.” Obviously the marketers who drafted the preview missed Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant (or Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant), Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, Matt Damon in The Departed, Gary Oldman in The Professional, Denzel Washington in Training Day, to name a few. Point is: if you’re going to assert such a bold statement, you’d better have the material to back it up.
As a character study, Rampart is a moderate success. Everything that veteran LAPD officer “Date Rape” Dave Brown does is done with a lust that is rather appealing. The way he preys on women in bars, criminals in the street, and fellow cops who refuse to finish their food, is executed by Woody Harrelson with psychotic glee. Basically, a character like Officer Dave Brown should be able to carry a movie, only one not as lacking and misguided as this.
Void of plot the way most character studies are, Rampart follows Office Brown (oh hell, let’s just call him Date Rape) around as he tries to duck corruption scandals against him, dodge new humiliations within his own department, and keep his needlessly complex family afloat. He drinks, he smokes, he screws, he hits, and he does it all quite well.
Here’s my main problem: Rampart is far too complicated for its own good. Its story problems are so pointless and dense, that I may have trouble articulating them clearly in print.
Take Date Rape’s family situation. He has two children, a boy from a woman (Cynthia Nixon) and a girl from the first woman’s sister (Anne Heche). So not only did he knock up two sisters, he makes them live together in the same house, while he crashes in the guesthouse out back. Every night during dinner while the others eat (Date Rape doesn’t eat, for reasons not explained) he openly asks which sister wants to sleep with him that night. If they reject him, he chases tail at the local bar. It’s like Big Love mixed with Modern Family sprinkled with The Shield. I wouldn’t take issue with this family dynamic, expect for the fact that it does nothing whatsoever to motivate the plot or the characters. It is, in a word, pointless.
As is Date Rape’s feelings on food (he doesn’t eat, and he demands with threats of violence that the people around him finish their food), and the story behind how his nickname was bestowed on him (he may have killed a rapist many years ago, or he may not have…), and the many people trying to nab his badge for all the bad shit he’s done.
Rampart is directed by Oren Moverman, who made The Messenger, a very good, very poignant film that contained one of Harrelson’s best performances. Moverman and Harrelson work well together, the actor’s depiction of Date Rape makes that clear. It’s an intense, fiery performance that would garner more awards attention if it weren’t lost in such an aimless film. (A film, I must add, that, like so many of its 2011 counterparts, decided not to have an ending). Harrelson gets an A, the movie as a whole: C-.