Within the rich history of film there have been any number of corrupt cops, and within this group is a sub-species: the pill-popping, trigger happy loose cannon operating under a code of morality hopelessly detached from reality. Think Denzel Washington in “Training Day,” Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant,” or Gary Oldman in “The Professional.” Now comes Woody Harrelson, as Dave “Date Rape” Brown, the most ruthless member of the LAPD’s most notorious division.
Directed by Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”), who co-wrote the film with neo-noir master James Ellroy, “Rampart” follows Brown as he’s fast approaching his breaking point. A Vietnam vet with some 20 years on the LAPD, he’s already got a questionable shooting on his record, two failed marriages, a daughter that’s scared of him and another who hates him, a serious substance abuse problem and a libido with no "off" switch.
Harrelson shook off his “Cheers” good guy rep playing a drug-fueled murderer in “Natural Born Killers,” and he does it again here, but without the glee. Harrelson’s Brown is a one-man army, the only guy on the force who--in his own hopelessly compromised opinion--understands the stakes and possesses the morality clarity needed to win that war. He’s a chain-smoking panther whose diet consists mostly of gin-soaked olives, ready—nay, eager—to drop the hammer on the bad guys, and Harrelson plays the part magnificently.
Moverman adds an extra layer of confusion to Brown by constantly showing him through windows, in reflections, across rooms, from behind—we can never quite get a good look at him, and his world is littered with noise, the chatter of fellow diners in a restaurant, the pop of guns, roar of engines. Brown’s psyche is under such constant assault from the countless things we all manage to filter out.
It’s too bad that Moverman and Ellroy constructed such an unbelievable family situation for Brown, one finds him with two ex-wives who are sisters and next-door neighbors, and raising together the daughters they had with Brown. Maybe this is happening somewhere in the City of Angels, but its implausibility is a distraction, and Brown’s story could’ve been told without it.
“Rampart” is a gripping character study of a man whose life of service to his country and community has left him drained and defenseless, left with only an insatiable hunger for sex, drugs and violence--anything that can make him feel--and a hopelessly skewed sense of justice.