Rampart: Woody Harrelson kills baddies… and goodies

Another quick review from the Melbourne International Film Festival

Woody Harrelson proves once again that he is one of the most incredibly underappreciated actors of his generation in Rampart, the latest film from the talented Oren Moverman. Rampart follows the story a corrupt Los Angeles police officer who never misses an opportunity to indulge in copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, sleep with random strangers, beat suspects and murder when necessary. In fact, Overman’s film could easily have carried the title Bad Lieutenant: Los Angeles, given the similar subject matter that Overman examines in its own unique way.

Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a corrupt LA patrol cop and former Vietnam veteran (the film is set in 1999) caught on video beating a man half to death for accidentally (probably) crashing into his patrol car. The public furore around the incident coincides with a very public investigation of local police corruption, making Brown the figurehead for everything wrong with the police force. Meanwhile, Dave is attempting to keep his unorthodox family together (he lives in two neighbouring houses with two ex-wives who are sisters and his two daughters), despite their absolute contempt for him and a lifetime of his disgraceful behaviour. Dave becomes progressively more paranoid and dangerous as he attempts to negotiate his way out of trouble.

Overman does a wonderful job of presenting Dave in a manner that elicits both sympathy and disgust from the viewer as it become clear that he is both a truly horrible human being and a brilliantly intelligent man totally incapable of controlling his impulses. His fingerprints on this one are clear – his style wavers between a kind of detached observational mode and an intensely emotive one.

Harrelson brings a wonderful depth and humanity to a character attempting to climb his way out a situation that he knows is ultimately inescapable. As with his performance in The People versus Larry Flynt, he is so convincing that one can’t help but assume that the actor must identify strongly with the part he is playing.

The script exhibits all the complexity and grit one would expect from James Ellroy, the writer of LA Confidential. This one is definitely worth a look.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

5 thoughts on “Rampart: Woody Harrelson kills baddies… and goodies

  1. i agree with your comments 100% about Harrelson’s acting ability. He is a superb actor. Have not yet seen this film, but intend to after reading your review. You’ve done a great job of explaining the film without giving too much away.

  2. I really enjoyed Rampart. As you say, Harrelson is fantastic in it and the movie manages to draw out his character’s complexities rather than drifting into a stereotypical example of a corrupt cop. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but well worth it.

  3. I tried to watch this one three times. I also appreciate Harrelson, but I couldn’t get into this one. The script lost me about 30 minutes in both times. I’ll have to try one more time, thanks for a new insight.

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