Building off the success of his debut film, The Messenger, director Oren Moverman plunges into a world of corruption with his newest effort Rampart, which looks at the LAPD in the 1990’s and its long history of excessive violence, seedy corruption and racial discrimination. Woody Harrelson stars as misogynistic, hedonistic, alcoholic, quasi-sociopathic, racist (though he maintains that he hates all people equally) police officer Dave Brown. Brown finds himself embroiled in a scandal after he beats a black motorist senseless and is caught on tape doing so, a la Rodney King. Brash, abrasive and downright offensive, Harrelson’s Officer Brown follows his own moral code by doing “the people’s dirty work.” In other words, he’s a loose cannon.
Embracing the crime he seeks to thwart, Brown more closely resembles the criminals he cuffs than the badge that sits upon his chest. Yet his family life is even more wayward than his career. Brown is divorced and still living with his two exes, who happen to be sisters (played admirably by Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche). Yeah, you read that right. Also, he has fathered a daughter with both sisters. His oldest daughter Helen, in high school and very aware of her father’s checkered familial and occupational history, doesn’t hide her contempt for her father. His youngest daughter Margaret, still a tad aloof to her father’s past, engages somewhat hesitantly with her father, but even she begins to pull away – and they all live together.
While Brown is as predictable as an injured, cornered animal, there’s always a certain amount of tact in his methods. He’s a really smart guy. In another life, he’d probably be a successful business man or politician. But he’s living his own life in the rotting Rampart division of the LAPD. His personal vices that plague him also fulfill him in some self-destructive way. The conflict he incites comforts him.
Harrelson is electric, like a livewire in a puddle of water. Resembling the cigarettes his character chain-smokes, Harrelson is a muted ember color that lies nearly dormant and then explodes to a full glowing blaze with each exhale. His character’s rage simmers below the surface, seeping through his pores, incessantly forming beads of sweat on his ruddy brow, and boils over in fits of unbridled violence and spats of vulgarities. It is extremely talented work from an underrated actor. Harrelson alone makes Rampart worthy of seeing.