Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive, writer/director Oren Moverman’s (The Messenger) second film Rampart is full of surprises and much more layered than its trailer suggests.

Set in Los Angeles in 1999, Rampart is a film about power and control and is seen through the eyes of David Douglas Brown. As his own actions conspire against him the highly intelligent and psychologically damaged LAPD police officer tries to hold onto his family, job and sanity.

Brown, or ‘Date Rape’, the nick-name coined by his colleagues for an alleged act of vengeance, is a Vietnam veteran whose old school approach to police work is quickly falling out of step with the post-Rodney King expectations of his precinct, which is already under investigation for widespread corruption.

When caught on camera severely beating a black suspect following a car accident, the already under pressure Rampart police department led by Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) see Brown as a problem that needs to be removed. ‘Date rape’ Dave sees it differently and is unrelenting when he suspects a conspiracy.

Like the film, Brown is difficult to categorise and Woody Harrelson’s (Zombieland, No Country for Old Men) vein-popping performance as a man under fire may be the best of his career. Living in the shadow of his cop father, Brown the misogynist bigot is not quite the misanthrope he first appears to be.

Channelling the spirit of Dirty Harry, Harrelson plays a man from another era unwilling and unable to change. With the use of intimate camera shots we experience the emotional turmoil that takes the eloquent and charismatic Brown from an angry womanising bully to a powerless and hurt parent. Unsure what he’s going to do next Harrelson never loses control of the rogue cop, continuingly cranking the tension up to eye-watering levels.

Ben Foster (The Mechanic, The Messenger) leads a great supporting cast as General Terry, a wheelchair bound homeless man, who inadvertently adds to Brown’s continued paranoia about a plot involving lawyer Linda Fentress (Robin Wright) and his father’s best friend and patriarchal figure Hartshorn (Ned Beatty). Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire, The Messenger) also has a small cameo as union lawyer Bill Blago.

Police investigator Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube), drug taking, alcohol abuse and a suggested eating disorder continue to pile the pressure on Brown following an ill advised attempt to top up his cash reserves. As the fallout of Brown’s decisions hit his unconventional home, daddy’s girl Margaret (Brie Larson) appears lost and confused while rebellious teenager Helen (Sammy Boyarsky) continues to challenge her father’s authority until their final heartbreaking showdown.

The open-minded attitude of the girl’s mothers and ex-wives Barbara (Cynthia Nixon) and Catherine (Anne Heche) are also pushed to the limit, forcing the women to reconsider their unusual living arrangements.

Bringing The Messenger co-stars together for the second time, the excellent Moverman along with his latest co-writer James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) have created a compelling study of a complex and flawed individual hopelessly trying to control the world and the people around him until the films unexpected end.

Showing now at FACT

One Response to “Film review: Rampart”

  1. ChrisCarney

    I do think Woody Harrelson has turned a corner with this role. I’ve always enjoyed his performances but even with NBK there has always been a hint of the Cheers character in there that was difficult to shake off. It’s a shame that every single one of his Academy screening copies were faulty & as such he will probably be missed off the accolade list for this one. 

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