'Rampart': Cop drama is dark, feverish and compelling
In "Rampart," Woody Harrelson portrays an unrepentant Los Angeles "bad cop" who every once in a while betrays a hint of compassion. But it's a dark, feverish, unapologetic film about an evil man, says Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald. Directed by Oren Moverman ("The Messenger") from a script by James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"), the film has a star-studded cast that includes Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi. It is playing at Seattle's Harvard Exit.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Rampart,' with Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Robert Wisdom, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi. Directed by Oren Moverman, from a screenplay by James Ellroy and Moverman. 100 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence. Harvard Exit.
"I am not a racist," says LAPD cop Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson). "The fact is, I hate all people equally."
A clenched fist of a man, Brown is the quintessential "bad cop"; caught on tape brutally beating a suspect, he's unrepentant. Wearing aviator glasses and a perpetual sneer, he talks through his cigarette, not interested in dignifying the conversation by removing it. (Among his talents: the ability to catch two tossed cigarettes in his lips, simultaneously.) It's the summer of 1999 in Los Angeles, and Brown, red and sweaty, drives aimlessly through the city, looking for trouble — and, like a roach drawn to food scraps, usually finding it.
"Rampart," directed by Oren Moverman ("The Messenger") from a script by Moverman and the great crime writer James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"), doesn't offer any excuses for Brown, or any particular answers. And yet it's a remarkably compelling film. Though "Rampart" was inspired by real-life revelations of widespread corruption in LAPD's Rampart division in the 1990s, Brown is a fictional character, with a life as complex as any epic novel. It includes a makeshift family consisting of two daughters and their mothers (Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon), all living next door; an aging mentor (Ned Beatty) with his own ethical problems; a parade of women Brown meets under the cheap lights of low-rent bars; a string of fellow cops who despise him; and an assistant district attorney (Sigourney Weaver) wanting to bring him down.
Moverman, shooting with a loose, jittery camera often in extreme close-up, captures the sun-baked, oppressive feeling of the kind of summer night when you feel a little feverish, a little lost. And Harrelson, thin as a blade and smiling as if he'd never known joy (those who know him from "Cheers" will find him unrecognizable here), gives a performance of remarkable restraint and depth. He makes no excuses for Brown; indeed, there's something about his expression that indicates that he's bad simply because it's not as boring as the alternative. (Brown, we're told, killed a rapist once, under murky circumstances; you sense that it wasn't necessarily because the victim deserved it, but because Brown felt like it.) Harrelson's not afraid to show us the emptiness of a terrible man, while revealing the tiniest hints of a different person buried deep within.
Late in the film, Dave gazes at his daughters and says, "You look beautiful"; somewhere in his dark heart, he means it. He can't change, and he knows it; asking him to do so would be like asking the sun not to burn.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org