Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Rampart” – Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the drama “Rampart”, starring Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ice Cube and Steve Buscemi. 


When a scandal threatens the livelihood of a Los Angeles Police Officer, will he wind up losing both his job and his family in its aftermath?



In Los Angeles of 1999, the city finds itself embroiled in The Rampart Scandal, which has caused its entire police force to be under the scrutiny of the media and the public.  With its police seemingly out of control, people are increasingly concerned about whether the law is being fairly enforced.  One such cop that has been at risk for his behavior on the job is “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Harrelson), who sees himself as a courageous soldier working hard to keep his city from being overrun by Hispanic gangs. 

As rigid as Dave is, he maintains a rather unorthodox lifestyle, living with two sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), each of whom have given him a daughter.  With neither one of them interested in maintaining any kind of a romantic relationship with him any longer, Dave seeks companionship by picking up women at bars nearly every night.  While on the job one day, his police cruiser is sideswiped by another car; uninjured, Dave exits the car and approaches the driver, who then runs away.  Dave catches up with him and then proceeds to give the man a rather severe beating – all of which has been caught on video and winds up being played ad infinitum on the nightly news of all local area TV stations. 

With the Mayor (Buscemi) and the head of the department’s Internal Affairs (Weaver) calling for Dave’s head, he remains steadfast in his belief that he did nothing wrong and intends to hold on to his job.  Amidst all of this ongoing controversy, things quickly worsen for Dave when he witnesses a robbery while on duty.  In pursuit of the thieves, he allows one to get away, but manages to shoot and kill another – making it appear as though it was done in self-defense by planting a pistol on the corpse.  While an LAPD investigator (Ice Cube) tails Dave determined to arrest him, Dave sinks deeper into an abyss of substance abuse and depression as he’s thrown out of his home and his finances are drained by legal fees.  As the world closes in on him, will Dave be able to keep his job while he risks losing his family? 



Despite a great cast and a solid performance by Woody Harrelson, “Rampart” didn’t work for me largely due to a screenplay which I felt was rambling and often incoherent.  Maybe this was done intentionally, as a way of reflecting the jagged mindset of its protagonist – but as a storytelling device, I believe it failed.  What might’ve proved to be a more cohesive way of telling this tale could have been the existence of a single character with a stronger moral compass than Dave, through whose eyes we could have seen this story.  Lacking that, the audience is instead dragged down into the borderline psychosis of its main character. 

Clearly, the character of Dave Brown is the epitome of an anti-hero – someone so despicable that he is difficult (if not impossible) to root for, yet we are asked to do precisely that as we witness him being beaten up by both the city he had pledged to defend and the “family” (such as it is) he is dedicated to support.  Without an introspective bone in his body, Dave’s downfall seems to ultimately make him want to seek forgiveness from both the family and system he believes have failed him – but he nevertheless remains unable to see that he has done wrong and instead views himself as being victimized. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s director Oren Moverman and its cinematographer Bobby Bukowski.  Moverman said that he became associated with the project when he was hired to do a rewrite of the script, originally written by James Ellroy, because it was deemed unusable; after the revision, the producers asked Moverman to direct the movie as well, which he agreed to do only if Harrelson would star – once he agreed, the rest of the cast fell into place because everyone wanted to work with Harrelson.  As the cinematographer, Bukowski said that one of his challenges came about as a result of the significant amount of improvisation done during the shooting of the movie – due to the fact that the actors would unpredictably move around the set quite frequently, he found filming the action difficult because they would often go into areas he hadn’t prepared to be shot and as a result, didn’t light properly. 


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