Starring Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright and Ice Cube. Written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman. Directed by Oren Moverman.
Director Oren Moverman, who made his debut in 2009 with the remarkable The Messenger, ditches a clean-cut plot but hangs onto Woody Harrelson with the new Rampart. The film follows the sordid life of Dave Brown, a fictional LAPD officer at the time of the very non-fictional Rampart police corruption scandals in L.A. The extremely corrupt and often violent Brown finds himself under increased scrutiny, and perhaps surveillance by an internal affairs officer (Ice Cube), at work. As his home situation with his ex-wives (Heche and Nixon)—also sisters—disintegrates and he continues viciously violating the standards of the law, Brown becomes even more unraveled.
The loose, and occasionally loopy, nature of the narrative may be divisive and hard to judge, but Moverman definitely made a good choice in working with Harrelson again. Although Harrelson reaches some wild, near-psychotic highs, he doesn't just play Brown as a bad lieutenant; Harrelson finds the deeply troubled man behind the livewire. In general, Moverman brings in a great cast here and uses them well; Wright and Ice Cube are both standouts. Even greats like Steve Buscemi and Ben Foster put in confoundingly brief appearances.
But on to that story, and the way it's told. I interviewed Ice Cube recently, and the actor gave some interesting insight into Rampart's making, asserting that "the whole fucking movie is on the cutting-room floor." He described the film as being like "a bad mixed drink," with good ingredients but an unpleasant resulting taste. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but Cube's comments back up my intuition that something went awry in Rampart's translation from page to screen. Sure, the way some of the film plays out could merely suggest a subjective look into Brown's paranoid mind. But in other places, it merely feels disjointed, unsure and below the level of storytelling Moverman and his screenwriting partner Ellroy (of L.A. Confidential fame) are capable of. Despite these definite flaws, Rampart remains a strange and fascinating film with some incredible talent behind it. —Patrick Dunn