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REVIEW: "Rampart" Is Forceful, Not Excessive

Michael Chasin |
February 9, 2012 | 6:49 p.m. PST


"Rampart." Courtesy Millenium Entertainment and /Film
"Rampart." Courtesy Millenium Entertainment and /Film
It’s not more than 20 minutes into “Rampart” that Woody Harrelson’s officer Dave Brown beats a suspect half to death, but by that point any proof of his violent nature was already a formality. It’s clear from the moment he shows up onscreen that we’re looking at the very worst sort of cop: a bully and a sadist who couldn’t care less about the law. He’s in it for the power.

 In less-skilled hands this sort of character might lack depth, and it’s true that most of what defines Brown is right on the surface: He’s a hotheaded, chain-smoking, no-nonsense, politically incorrect womanizer who tells the rookie he’s training that there’s no difference between police and soldiers. The fact that many soldiers would be disgusted by his behavior probably doesn’t concern him.

But while Brown may not be multi-faceted, Harrelson more than manages to make him interesting by exercising wit and charm in such abundance that he almost comes off as likable. He can listen to talk radio by day and pick up women by night while remaining a believable character; if that’s not a testament to the strength of the performance, I don’t know what is.

The story, such as it is, is slight: Brown runs afoul of the system for his numerous transgressions and has to hold his ground if he wants to keep his job. When he talks to his superiors we see the worrying truth that Brown is much smarter than his station might indicate. He knows how the system works, and how best to exploit it. The biggest threat he can deliver is that if he isn’t a cop then he’ll actually start harnessing his potential and make everyone’s life hell. Other characters express confusion that he wants to stay on the force at all. They don’t grasp his very simple reasoning: If he weren’t a police officer, he’d have to follow the law like everyone else.

Adding a touch of complexity are Brown’s two daughters, who he’s trying not to alienate as they grow increasingly aware that their father isn’t quite the role model they might like him to be. The girls, incidentally, have different mothers. This wouldn’t be strange were it not for the fact that their mothers are sisters, and at the beginning of the film the five of them live together in a domestic situation that one would be safe in referring to as “unconventional.” Brown doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, and why would he? He shows as much concern for society’s expectations at home as he does on the job.

This is only the second directorial effort from Oren Moverman, and he proves that the acclaim garnered by his first film, "The Messenger," was no fluke. The camera work can be distracting at times (namely an office discussion scene with bizarrely excessive panning) and there’s a very intentional anticlimax, but if you can get past those you’ll be rewarded by one of the most compelling portrayals of a loose cannon cop ever realized, surrounded by a supporting cast that, if anything, is more star-studded than it needs to be. Make no mistake: This is Harrelson’s show. He owns it.

Follow Michael on twitter, check out his blog Story is God for more on all things fictional, or reach him at [email protected].



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