“Rampart” Movie Review

    Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” begins and ends with basically the same scene.  Woody Harrelson’s character, LAPD cop Dave Brown, driving and seemingly not knowing where the twisted maze that is his life is going to end up.  To the audience watching, it is evident all will not end up for the best and seeing this rousing character study unfold on screen is like watching a ticking time bomb.  Bad things will happen, its just a matter of to what magnitude and who will it have an effect on.  Much has been made of Harrelson’s performance here, but the ensemble cast, which includes Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, and Ice Cube among others, isn’t bad either.  This is the second collaboration between Moverman and Harrelson (“The Messenger”), the first of which garnered Harrelson his first Oscar nomination. 

     In 1999 Los Angeles, race relations have gotten any better since the Rodney King riots of the early 90’s.  Police work in LA hasn’t really changed either and from what is depicted on screen, the “us versus them” mentality is still alive and well.  If your unlucky enough to be a new Officer assigned to field training with Dave Brown, than you might as well be prepared for the worst, as one unlucky female cop finds out in the beginning of the film.  Brown and his female trainee are having lunch with two other cops in the establishment’s parking lot.  The conversation veers toward what is wrong with the LAPD these days.  When Brown looks at his slightly overweight, Hispanic female trainee and sternly says “you” when answering the question, things get a bit tense.  When he then forces her to finish her food or she won’t successfully make it through probation, then you get the idea this guy is a racist bigot who has no business wearing a badge.  And thats just the beginning.  Later in the shift, Brown gives his trainee a front row seat to what his definition of street justice is when he beats a handcuffed petit thief.

     If you know anything about the Rampart scandal, than you’ll realize this film is really not based on any of the atrocities committed by those rotten few who ruined it for the rest of the LAPD.  The real Rampart scandal was about gangster cops robbing banks and murdering west coast and east coast rap stars.  Harrelson’s Brown is more of the stereotypical bad cop we’ve seen before many times.  He’s a Vietnam veteran with 24 years on the force.  A dinosaur of a cop who was taught how to handle himself in the 70s and 80s and is having a tough time coping with the changes in law enforcement in the late 90s.  He’s asked to retire countless times in the film, yet he always claims the job is all he has.  I can’t help but think the fact Brown drives the same limited edition Chevy SS off duty that was the same make of the suspect vehicle in the murder of rapper Notorious BIG isn’t a coincidence, yet the film never implies Brown was involved nor does it even go down that road.  I kind of wish it would have.

     To be sure, his life seems to be a little strange at home.  He’s been married twice and the two women are sisters (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) of which he has one daughter with each.  The living arrangement has Brown under the same roof as his two ex-wives and his two kids, yet this seems to be the only thing remotely positive in his life.  It seems he has a nightly ritual where he asks one of them to sleep with him while at one end of the dinner table and if one says no, he then moves to the other end of the dinner table and asks the other.

      After getting away with so much for long on the force, he falls victim to being in a traffic collision on duty and when the driver tries to flee on foot he proceeds to beat him to near death.  The entire incident is caught on camera and he finds himself the star of the local news.  You sense this is where Brown really begins to spiral, yet he still is allowed to return to full duty in a black and white doing his regular job.  I can’t speak on LAPDs policies in the late 90s, but it just seems unfathomable to put this guy on the street with that kind of an investigation hanging over him.  Of course, Brown eventually becomes desperate and its all too easy for the audience to see what’s coming next.

     As a character, you won’t find yourself rooting for Brown.  He doesn’t come across as evil, but he’s clearly not a good person.  He doesn’t seem to do things for the good of the people, rather he seems just in it for himself.  He’s dirty and a drunk, but he’s not Vic Mackey dirty.  Truth is, because of how bad cops have been depicted on the big and small screen the last several years, Brown really doesn’t rank with the worst of them and that’s sad to say I know.  For the most part, as I watched I kept thinking to myself, “Where’s his supervisor?”.  Some interaction with his immediate superior would’ve lent a lot more realism to the story, but the fact we never see this person perhaps tells the story about why so many of these Officers were able to step so far out of line in the first place.  GRADE: B-