A near flawless examination of hubris on the individual in a film pleasingly free of the cliches of the genre burdened and lessened by some tiresome pacing and overly forceful, slightly manipulative scenes. Essentially a character study that finds the plot only necessary for revealing another facet of our fascinating, repellent and unpleasant protagonist. Woody Harrelson is better than ever as Dave “Date Rape” Brown (He complains about both the mundanity of his name and his station moniker or nick name, earned for allegedly killing a known, violent date rapist.), an out of date policeman, still standing after the Rampart scandals of the early nineties. Determinedly old school in both outlook and policing methods, his past is catching up with him as his present closes in and collapses around him. Dave is caught on videotape (it’s 1999) savagely beating a man he was involved in a car accident with, he protests his innocence, threatens to become a news pundit for Fox or a lawyer and take down the whole department. He is well read and verbose, armour he uses to deflect accusations of brutality and racism. His home life consists of adjacent houses each stocked with a wife or ex-wife (sisters) and a daughter. Encased in liberal, feminist homes he spends his life on the beat or in bars picking up single women.
Set in Los Angeles, the spiritual home of the crooked cop movie, Rampart is shot in the rich primary colours the climate allows. The cIty has rarely looked more like a jungle, more vividly humid and threatening, more full of diversities, ideologies, factions, social substrates, rumours and political ambiguities. Humming with money and madness, corruption and power, LA is portrayed as a modern day Gomorrah, a festering sore and an uncomfortable melting pot all at the same time. All the best corrupt policemen wear their city like a suit and reflect it’s nature in their own personalities. Dave Brown is no different. LA is wrapped tight around him, squeezed into every cell, written in his DNA and echoed in his every sentence. He and the city tick along together, each others symbiote. Without LA Dave is nothing, he’s unwilling to give up his position within it for anything. Enjoying the minor powers granted him by the city herself. LA provides him delusions of grandeur, a sense of serving a higher power and a rock solid get out clause for all his transgressions.
James Ellroy’s involvement in anything to do with the LAPD lends instant credibility (Hell, even Street Kings sounded good), his extensive knowledge of the department’s history, traditions and skeletons give an authenticity useful to any crime drama. His clipped, abbreviated, racially charged dialogue is vicious (“…Rodney King wannabees…” cuts deep) his scenes and locations carefully chosen. The script certainly seems to have attracted a high calibre cast all willing to spout it’s acerbic observations with venom and snake oil. Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi play city officials despairing of Brown, Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon his wife and ex-wife respectively, Ned Beatty is a retired cop, Ice Cube an IA officer and the always dependable Robin Wright excels as a damaged lawyer who falls in with Brown for ambiguous reasons. Not a bad line up for a film opening on five screens in the US.
Directed by Oren Moverman (I’m Not There, The Messenger) with a flair suitable for a high temperature cop thriller. Moverman was also involved with the script, allegedly rejigging it to be more of a one man show, a spiral downwards for Dave Brown rather than a fallout from Rampart, procedural film. This is arguably to the film’s detriment. Shot after shot of Woody’s grimacing, smoking head in his patrol car begin to drag, repeated well after we have got to know Dave and his foot fetish well. Unfortunately it also hurts the scenes outside of Dave’s police work, passages with his daughters are too prolonged at times when the meagre plot could be moved forward.
Bent Copper movies are guilty pleasures because at some point a bastard must be rooted for. “Date Rape” Brown compels some sympathy as he gets deeper and deeper into the mire, sympathy not for his plight which is deserved but for his status as a relic, unable to understand the forces allayed against him . His face goes bright red as alcohol takes over, his logic and reason vanish and his justifications and excuses flimsily collapse. So, a brilliantly realised character who just might be too corrupt to support and that, somehow, takes some of the pleasure away. A rough diamond then, creatively shot, realistically written in blackly comic police jargon, slight on story but anchored to solid ground by a performance from an actor moving into that wonderful phase some get to where everything seems effortless and nothing is too far.