Rampart * * *
Director: Oren Moverman.
Screenplay: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Ben Foster, Steve Buscemi, Brie Larson, Audra McDonald, Robert Wisdom, Jon Bernthal, Jon Foster, Stella Schnabel.
“L.A. Confidential” was an exceptional adaptation of hard-boiled, crime writer James Ellroy’s novel. Most other adaptations tend to be flawed. “Dark Blue“, “The Black Dahlia” and “Street Kings” had decent material but didn’t grip as well as they should have. This is another that suffers from a similar problem.
In 1999, the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Force is rife with corruption. Amongst, the main culprits is ‘Date Rape’ Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson). He’s a cop that plays by his own rules and lives by an old-school code. His reputation precedes him and is heightened even further when he’s caught on video assaulting a driver who crashes into him. To try and thwart the attention of the media and ever increasing public frustration, his superiors suggest retirement. Dave refuses and attempts a legal case but it only draws him deeper into his murky past.
Three years previously, Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi were all involved in Oren Moverman’s brilliant directorial debut “The Messenger“. They all assemble again for this but where Moverman showed a skilful subtlety in his debut, he decides to get a bit flashy with this one. That’s his first mistake. He teases a powerful performance from Harrelson – like he did before – but he doesn’t utilise Foster or Buscemi the way he should. That’s his second mistake. And as if that’s not enough, he has James Ellroy himself, co-writing the screenplay with him, yet the focus is on one character – rather than tapping into Ellroy’s abilities in convoluted narrative arcs. Three strikes and you’re out Oren. That being said though, the character of Dave Brown and Harrelson’s strong central performance provide enough powerful material to hold your interest. There’s a real intensity to the man and Harrelson delivers the perfect balance of a man teetering on the brink of the immorality. He received an Oscar nomination for “The Messenger” but I actually think this is a better performance. Moverman doesn’t do him any favours though. He employs a flamboyant handheld approach that’s so distracting that is verges on awful and it detracts from the drama. A good director shouldn’t be noticed before his performers. Speaking of which, the supporting cast is impressively assembled but few get any substantial screen time, leaving the descent of Dave Brown the film’s main focus, much in the same way as Harvey Keitel’s “Bad Lieutenant“. Where that film succeeded though was in having the courage of it’s convictions. This threatens to but draws to a less than satisfactory conclusion.
If it wasn’t for Harrelson, this film wouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Moverman rightly received plaudits for his debut but he has gotten a bit ahead of himself here. Hopefully he’ll learn his lesson for next time.