Don't Blame Woody
Poor Woody Harrelson. Here he is with a great role in Rampart -- a corrupt L.A. police officer spiraling out of control back in 1999 -- and the movie turns out to be about as messy as one can get, through no fault of his own. Important conversations are filmed with the camera showing the back of the actors or in noisy, dark areas making it practically impossible to know what’s going on; key scenes begin and end with no rhyme or reason; and too many individuals appear without any clarification of their purpose in the story. Fortunately, Harrelson delivers the goods again. He makes us believe the disturbed character he plays.
“I’m not a racist. I hate everybody!” shouts Dave Brown (Harrelson) when being investigated about one of his questionable actions as a police officer. His oldest daughter Helen (Brie Larson) even hurls terms like misogynist, chauvinist, and sexist at him. But we glimpse a bit of goodness in this man where his daughters are concerned. Helen and her young half-sister Margaret (Sammy Boyarsky) seem to bring out his tender side. And Dave has tried to keep his ex-wife (Cynthia Nixon), current wife (Anne Heche), and their children together in the same house. However, he can’t stop his womanizing, bullying, drinking, drug-taking behavior, so how long will his family continue to put up with him?
On the job, Dave is a terror. A Viet Nam war veteran, he views his beat as a “military occupation.” He sadistically mistreats a wheelchair bound fellow veteran (Ben Foster), and uses racial slurs that would make Archie Bunker cringe. After he gets in serious trouble for brutality -- caught on camera -- in connection with the other driver in a car accident, he insists the man attacked him with a lethal weapon (his vehicle). He calls a fixer (Ned Beatty) for help, and “Why don’t you just stop beating on people?” sums up the best advice he receives. Things go from bad to worse for Dave when he’s involved in a shooting connected with a strange robbery. Everyone wants Dave to retire or at least make a deal regarding the charges against him. But this stubborn policeman won’t listen to reason. He thinks other options are open to him. And so Dave’s downward spiral continues.
During the course of Dave’s dark journey, some interesting stars drop by to provide support in various roles, including Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, and Robin Wright. Too bad these fine actors also got caught up in such an incoherent film. Director/co-writer Oren Moverman, who did such a splendid job on The Messenger, lets Rampart spin out of control, just like its main character.
And yet, always the eternal optimist, I want Dave Brown to experience redemption. So will there be a sequel? Don’t bet on it.
(Released by Millennium Entertainment and rated “R” for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence.)
For more information about Rampart, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.