‘Rampart’ Movie Review
American history has seen its share of sweep-under-the-rug stories that we avoid talking about. Perhaps I was too young to completely understand the misguided and utterly corrupt events that marred the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) during the late 1990s, which are widely known as the Rampart scandals. These scandals are the focus of Oren Moverman’s crime drama Rampart, which finally gets its wide release this weekend.
Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a war vet and seasoned LAPD officer that refuses to adhere to an ethical conduct code. Instead, he finds himself justifying a lot of his actions based on justice. After being caught on camera mercilessly beating up a suspect, he becomes the center of civil unrest regarding police brutality. While the Rampart investigations start to heat up, Brown’s past and present actions are put into perspective as you try to understand what drives such an interesting, albeit crazy, renegade.
Moverman makes a conscious effort to frame the scandal in the scope of one individual. Going essentially “all-in” with one character makes the movie seem a bit one-sided. What makes the Rampart scandals atrocious is the fact that over 70 police officers were involved. If it were just one person (like the movie suggests), the ordeal wouldn’t have caught nearly as much attention. While there are certainly nods to the overall corruption of the police department, we aren’t left with much of a sense that the thing transcends this one dirty cop.
This is certainly my biggest problem with the film, but I’m still left with a positive experience. The one character they do choose to follow is a damned good choice. Harrelson deserves a lot of recognition (which he didn’t receive) for his portrayal of a sleazy antihero cop. Rampart got a last-minute Oscar push in an attempt to garner some recognition in 2011, giving Harrelson the greatest shot. Although this attempt was unsuccessful, his performance definitely should’ve been in the running.
Co-written by Moverman and James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, Street Kings), the script is another highlight of the film. Harrelson does the acting, but without a good screenplay, what he was doing would’ve fallen by the wayside. Ellroy, a writer and essayist, has made his living in the crime genre, making this piece of work another success in a storied career.
In a genre filled with fast-paced, unrealistic dramas, at least Rampart stands out as a more suitable story. Aside from the writing and performing, the tone, including the simplistic score, makes the story seem as dark as the events portrayed. There was a lot going for the film, even though the story doesn’t really deal with the usual themes of redemption. Instead, it focuses on blurring the lines between justice and injustice, while showing how the mindset of certain individuals aren’t ready for change. Officer Brown’s renegade nature is the product of the times he grew up in, making his inability to change the ultimate demise of his character.
In comparison terms, this movie falls near Training Day, although I’d certainly find that movie a little bit more enjoyable. While they both can be categorized as cop dramas with powerful, complicated motives for their main characters, I think Rampart falters a bit with its limited scope on a serious issue. Also, the lack of supporting characters hinders the film significantly.
Fortunately, Rampart has enough working to warrant a trip to the movie theater.