Monday, May 21, 2012
Woody Harrelson's Rampart comes out on DVD this week.
I don't make a habit of writing posts about movies already on DVD. That's something I post to Tinsel & Tine's facebook page; The exception this time is because I already wrote this a few months back for The Philadelphia Film Society's site, after their preview screening of Rampart; but it got pushed to the back burner as I was working on some other posts, so now's a good time to dust it off:
The Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department serves communities to the west and northwest of Downtown Los Angeles including Echo Park, Pico-Union and Westlake. Its name is derived from Rampart Boulevard.
During the late 90's allegations of extreme police misconduct and dirty cop scandals plagued the department. The television show "The Shield" was originally called "Rampart," and the LAPD asked them to change the name. The movie "Training Day" was also originally called "Rampart", again the LAPD asked them to change the name.
This Rampart, featuring Woody Harrelson, directed by Oren Moverman and originally scripted by one of L.A.'s most respected crime-writers, James Ellroy, received no complaints from the LAPD. In fact, Bernard Parks, the Chief of Police during that time, asked to meet with Moverman to offer his first hand knowledge of the events. Information that could become useful for perhaps yet another movie with the title of Rampart; but Moverman's film really only uses the Rampart scandals as a backdrop.
Harrelson's character, Dave Brown, is just a sketch or composite of the kind of egotism and corruption that can be found here and there among those who wear the badge. Brown is a Vietnam Vet, on the force 24 years. In the opening scene he intimidates a female rookie cop by forcing her to eat a side of fries she wants to discard. He puts a perp's head through an interrogation room window and basically drives around LA like he owns the place, surveying everything from behind his cop shades.
Then we see Dave Brown at home, or should I say at home(s), as it's actually two neighboring houses; in each one lives an ex-wife (Cynthia Nixon & Anne Heche) with each ex he's had a daughter (Sammy Boyarsky & Brie Larson). The daughters are both half siblings and first cousins (Nixon/Heche characters are sisters). Everyone seems comfortable with the communal living situation, although it's obvious Dave doesn't rule the roost in either household.
His eldest daughter greets him by his department nickname “Date Rape”, a name he got for killing an alleged serial date rapist. And he simply says “Don't call me that” without any real menace.
Brown embroils himself in two back to back offenses that lands him under investigation with the department. One case involving police brutality caught on tape and the other involving a card game robbery and shooting. But even before these infractions, hand held camera shots give the impression that Brown is being watched or tailed. This effect intensifies as Brown starts to feel more and more persecuted, with camera angles shot through openings and from a distance. But is it only in his mind?
In truth the film isn't a crime drama or police exposé, it's a character study of a man who is both extremely articulate and seductive and at the same time, ridiculous and immoral. In many ways we learn most about this character which Harrelson brings expertly to life, through his relationships with his family of women, and a recent sexual affair with a lady lawyer (Robin Wright) than we do from his identity as a cop.
In an interview Moverman said he had to take Ellroy's original script and make it manageable. I have a feeling that script was more your traditional crime drama, dirty cop shakedown scenario, something I've seen enough of to last me a lifetime; but I feel others may be looking for that and be disappointed by Rampart's more indy edge.