Los Angeles, 1999. LAPD patrolman Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown (Woody Harrelson) is an old-school cop. A Vietnam veteran with 25 years on the force, he’s a gunfighter from a family of gunfighters, a modern day lawman dispensing his own brand of rough justice on the mean, sweaty, streets of LA’s infamous Rampart Precinct.
A racist, speed-fuelled, bigot, blurring the lines between right and wrong, Dave sees himself as a soldier fighting in the trenches, “doing the people’s dirty work.” Rumored to have earned his nickname, Date Rape, for allegedly murdering a sex offender, he hankers for the days when the LAPD “used to be a glorious soldiers’ department.”
But with the Rampart Precinct engulfed by the corruption scandal of the late ‘90s and the Police Department determined to clean up its act, the days are numbered for dirty cops like Dave. When he’s caught on video beating a suspect half to death, he finds his superiors offer him up to the media as a scapegoat to distract from the wider scandal. Spiraling out of control, consumed by his addictions, his demons and the sins of his past, Dave finds his life imploding.
Co-written by the Demon Dog of American Letters, James Ellroy, and featuring a blistering, career best performance from Woody Harrelson, Oren Moverman’s Rampart is almost an anti-thriller. All the usual suspects of the corrupt cop thriller are there; the cop on the edge, the duplicitous superiors, the tangled personal life, the beatings, the murders, drugs, drink, womanising, the labyrinthine plot, the search for redemption, for forgiveness. But plot is very far from the point with Rampart. Employing the same loose, improvisational style as his previous film The Messenger, Moverman’s film is willfully episodic, turning its back on anything approaching a satisfying, conventional narrative to instead deliver a devastating character study, a stunning portrait of a total bastard.
Fuelled by drink, drugs and rage, Harrelson’s fiercely intelligent, charismatic Dave is riveting; a paranoid, self-pitying, self-justifying bully who believes himself a victim. He shares a home with both his ex-wives, sisters (Anne Heche & Cynthia Nixon, both excellent), each mother to a daughter, all of whom hate him almost as much as he hates himself. Unrepentant and irredeemable, his arrogant tough guy swagger a front for the personal demons that plague him, Dave’s a magnetically vile human being, the movie a claustrophobic, hallucinatory descent into his personal hell. Harrelson and Moverman defy you to like Dave, to feel even a shred of sympathy for him even as they immerse you in his world, forcing you to identify with him, to see the world through his eyes.
Harrelson has quite simply never been better delivering a brutally compelling performance, ably supported by an almost perfect cast where virtually everyone is on the make from Sigourney Weaver’s internally affairs investigator to Steve Buscemi’s politician, Ned Beatty’s duplicitous mentor to Ben Foster’s disabled war vet, Heche and Nixon’s wives to Robin Wright’s cop groupie/lawyer girlfriend. They may not be as bad, as corrupt, as selfish as Dave but all want a piece of him, all have their own agenda. Only Ice Cube’s DA’s investigator rises above them all, the sole uncompromisingly moral character in the film, the one individual who sees through Dave’s lies, who can’t be charmed or bargained with. Another film may have centered around the rivalry between these two very different cops; for Moverman, Ice Cube’s incorruptible investigator is just one of the many plagues Harrelson’s Dave brings down upon his own head.
Bold, intense and mesmerising, Moverman’s Rampart maybe as frustrating as it is satisfying but it demands to be seen for Harrelson’s brave, committed, arresting performance. A brutal, violent, bully who believes himself a victim,
Woody Harrelson, Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Brie Larson, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon
1 hour 48 minutes