You can immediately tell something may be amiss with a person when you hear their nickname is “Date Rape”. This is most certainly the case with LAPD Officer Dave Brown, played with gusto by Woody Harrelson, who is partial to the odd bit of racism, womanising as well as violently assaulting any person that crosses him.
Set in 1999, in the aftermath of the real life Rampart scandal where corruption within the LAPD anti-gang unit came under public scrutiny, Officer Brown is caught on tape beating a black suspect. He struggles to deal with the investigation into his actions as well as with his own tumultuous home-life, getting himself involved with more and more illegal activities.
Brown is quite a creation. Whilst neither he nor the film brings anything new to the dirty-cop flick, Woody Harrelson ensures that he is at least a highly memorable bastard. It would be easy to write him off as a complete monster, but Harrelson adds an amount of humanity to the role, enabling us to see him instead as a highly flawed and confused individual. Whether shaking off the endless amount of criticism that he rightly receives for his actions or simply laughing whilst being beaten by a supposed friend, Brown appears to hate himself just as much as everyone else does and Harrelson is more than adept at playing this inner turmoil within the man.
Brown is the centre of nearly every scene in the film and, as good as Harrelson may be, this focus is both the film’s strength and, unfortunately, also its weakness. The film has a large and talented supporting cast who only sporadically appear for short periods of time. It even becomes slightly frustrating seeing such a terrific cast get as little screen time as they do with their roles being effectively reduced to glorified cameos. Robin Wright as an equally messed-up lawyer and Ben Foster, as a wheelchair bound homeless man who has himself encountered the corruption within the LAPD, seem as if they could have added different dimensions to the story if not to Brown as well.
This is a shame given how director and co-writer Oren Moverman’s previous film, the excellent The Messenger was able to afford such great roles to both its lead and supporting cast which included another superb performance by Harrelson.
Rampart‘s plot also seemingly goes nowhere with the final half hour and fails to offer anything new to the story or come up with fulfilling conclusions. It also includes a pointless and highly unneeded scene where Brown visits his local sex club. Sadly this means that Rampart is a worthwhile but disappointing effort, with Woody Harrelson’s terrific turn as the self-destructive central character and the performances of the underused cast just about managing to propel the film above mediocrity.
Rampart (2011), directed by Oren Moverman, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.