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.