Rampart Review

Explaining the finer details of your job to one’s offspring can be a slippery business. Attempting to make the day to day humdrum of working life sound even vaguely interesting is usually enough to terrify most right thinking and sensible children into a life of benefit fraud, hard drugs and daytime television.

Mine is the sort of occupation that, though fulfilling, is difficult to explain away with any satisfaction to the enquiring six year old mind. When questioned I normally bluff my way through, heroically avoiding the lurch into clichéd office speak.

Presumably, this is not a problem for your average officer of the law. To a six year old, being a rozzer is only very slightly behind astronaut, superhero or professional footballer in daddy top trumps. Marginally better than rock star even.

However if you’re Rampart district police officer Dave Brown, explaining your work activities to the family may not be your most immediate problem. Not when your average day consists of doling out generous helpings of corruption, brutality and intimidation whilst stoking up racial tension.

Oren Moverman‘s Rampart is set in the Los Angeles suburb of the same name, following the aftermath of the notorious Rampart scandal which saw numerous police officers of the precinct imprisoned for varying degrees of corruption and violence during the nineties.

Officer Brown, played by Woody Harrelson, is a survivor of the scandal and a Vietnam Vet. The living embodiment of all of that has gone wrong before him, Brown is seemingly oblivious to any such scandal as he goes about his daily duties.

Nothing gets in the way of his brutal pursuit of justice. Being covertly filmed whilst paying homage to the LAPD’s assault on Rodney King is but a minor irritant, even when the footage is broadcast on the local news. The same footage acts as a preamble to sex for Brown and a female District Attorney when it’s repeated in a bar he frequents.

Oh yes, Rampart truly is a rotten town; place so devoid of decency and morality that female attorneys get the horn on watching grainy footage of a police officer going to town on an unsuspecting member of the public.

And so a new political administration and commissioner is tasked with ridding the department of its bad apples, with Brown’s embarrassing antics soon placing him under their watchful eye.

Brown’s energies soon become focussed not on law enforcement but in self-preservation, as first his employers and then his family are forced to confront his terrible behaviour.

Rampart is a strange little film which seems to be suffering from an identity crisis; one minute pitched as a straight up drama, the next black as night comedy.

Harrelson carries the film single handed, at large in every scene with the malevolent and psychotic air of a deeply flawed man, losing his grip on everything he holds dear.

Brown is legion; a police officer, womaniser, family man, bully, misogynist and gangster. As comfortable beating low life’s on the street as he is engaging in moral debates with career policemen, pitting his wits against hot shot politicians or picking up women in bars who should frankly know better.

If anything, his character is too layered. As if an entire filthy police force has been distilled into one almighty, corrupt, behemoth uber-cop.

You could almost admire him, if he wasn’t such a tosser.

Although the excellent performance from Harrelson and the strong supporting cast are decent enough, the premise of Rampart itself is absurd.

Which makes a lot of it quite unbelievable, like one of the many women who still find Brown attractive after he volunteers his “Date Rape” nickname.

Or that a policeman could be caught on camera after beating an innocent man senseless and not find himself arrested.

Not to mention that Brown lives at home with both his wife and ex-wife who each have a daughter by him.

Did I mention that they happen to be sisters?

The film is similar in plot and style to LA Confidential, which isn’t surprising as James Ellroy the key writing credit on Rampart. Sadly, this is where the comparisons begin and end.

As the story develops it moves away completely from its wider political implications and focuses entirely on one man’s downward spiral.

The almost exclusive use of handheld cameras following Brown around the city involves the viewer to the extent where watching him begins to feel almost nauseating.

The scenes where Brown is explaining himself to his superiors, played by Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver, are the film’s most compelling. The new, politically correct regime try to persuade the outmoded Brown into early retirement, but end up charmed and intimidated into allowing him back onto the streets.

These scenes feel far more realistic than the rest of the film, yet these relationships are left under explored and are left unresolved.

Which is all a bit of a shame, as there’s a story worth telling in Rampart with its real-life scandal, political context and supposed links to hip-hop culture. But ultimately, all we’re left with is another tale of an average Joe going about his day job and ballsing it right up.

Tell me, how do you explain that to the kids?

Frank Gardiner

Leave A Comment

Dates ‘n stuff

February 2012