The Rampart patrol area of the Los Angeles Police Department serves communities to the west and northwest of Downtown Los Angeles including Echo Park, Pico-Union and Westlake.  In the wake of the Rodney King beating, the LAPD was further rocked by scandal in the late 1990s, when widespread corruption was documented involving gross police misconduct detailing unprovoked beatings, planting evidence on suspects, and unjustified shootings, among other violations.  This police drama plays out against this backdrop.

Rampart is directed by Oren Moverman who also helmed The Messenger. This reunites its star Woody Harrelson with Ben Foster who also appeared in both films. Here the director teams up with crime writer James Ellroy to co-write the original screenplay. Supposedly Ellroy has an admiration for the LAPD and feels that the Rampart scandal was blown out of proportion.  You’d never know it from this screenplay, as those feelings are not evident.  This is a most unflattering portrait of a man without conscience.

Rampart features a powerful performance by Woody Harrelson as Officer Dave Brown, a veteran that operates above the law. He’s a piece of work. He plays an LA cop as corrupt as they come. He’s essentially a composite of the type of police officer that the Rampart scandal alleged was pervasive in the LAPD.  It’s a gutsy performance devoid of respectability. In addition to his nefarious activities on the force, he lives with both his wife and ex-wife who happen to be sisters. Then there’s his 2 daughters, one from each woman, all living under the same roof. Despite his marriage, he frequents bars looking for women with which to have sex, one of whom, a defense attorney, may or may not be investigating him. Yeah he’s pretty sleazy.  The lawyer seems pretty messed up too.

I guess there was a time when the country bumpkin Woody Boyd on the TV show Cheers seemed like just an extension of the actor’s own persona. I mean c’mon, they even had the same first name! However since leaving that role in 1993 he’s played a serial killer (Natural Born Killers), a pornographer (The People vs. Larry Flynt ) and a bounty hunter (No Country for Old Men).  As that naïve but lovable portrayal fades from memory, each miscreant seems less and less like a stretch. Depressing, oppressive and bleak, there’s little point to the film other than as a character study. But what a character study! Harrelson’s quietly vicious portrayal really gets under your skin. He is the movie and without him, this virtually plotless account would’ve been meaningless. Drama masquerading as art, arbitrarily ends with an ambiguous non-ending. The whole seemingly improvised production adds up to very little. It’s a testament to Harrelson’s memorably unlikable portrayal that we remain interested in his story. Unfortunately without a point of view, commentary or resolution, the production remains a fascinating disappointment.

9 Responses to “Rampart”

  1. This was pretty much in the running for the Best Actor Oscar but as other movies premiered, other actors started to edge out Harrelson and it faded.


  2. Don’t know how I felt about this. Powerful, but left me hanging, in the end.


  3. Great review Mark! I was unaware of the Rampart scandal and after reading your review, I do wonder why exactly then, was this film made? (other than to serve as a Woody Harrelson acting tour de force)

    From my brief google search it seems that the Rampart division was implicated with several unsavoury characters and an unhealthy amount of less than honourable activity….does the film shed any more light on those events?

    What I have gleaned from your review is essentially, we’re treated to the inner workings of a scumbag…and then the movie ends!


    • Yeah it didn’t delve into the Rampart scandal. In fact the film only barely mentions the misconduct in passing with an offhand remark. Most of the film was an account of this fictional “scumbag” cop that happened to work for the same police department. It’s a very vague storyline. His character doesn’t even have much of an arc.


  4. Great review Mark, I’ve heard brilliant things about this film so can’t wait to see it. I like Woody Harrelson so will be interested to see if he lives up to my high expectations in this film. Although by the sounds of your review I don’t think I will be disappointed


  5. I feel pretty much the same way. Here is my review if you want to read it. http://moviereviewer96.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/review-rampart/


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