Dir: Oren Moverman
We learn early on in the film that “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is not a very likable fellow. He is violent, arrogant, sexist, racist and a generally disagreeable human being. However, it would be a mistake to label him entirely devoid of any redeeming qualities. The Vietnam veteran, and current LA police officer, is more of an anti-hero than a bad seed.
Set against the Rampart scandal that plagued the LAPD during the late- 1990s, we see Officer Brown as a genuine, although somewhat misguided, family man. Never foregoing his selfish tendencies, Brown does seem to actually care for his two ex-wives (Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon) and two daughters. He never raises his voice, let alone a fist, to any of those in his family (even when vigorously provoked). This behavior is a radical departure from his professional persona. While in uniform, he is not above theft, murder, bigotry, and arbitrary violence.
Throughout the film we often hear Officer Brown recall his service in Vietnam; not so much to excuse his behavior but, perhaps, to put it into a civilian context. It would be a mistake to assume that Vietnam made him violent. On the other hand, one imagines that the military, and now the LAPD, give Officer Brown an outlet to be who he really is: a self-righteous ego maniac that fashions himself the grand arbiter of street justice.
By way of ‘bad-cop’ movies, Rampart provides us with nothing new. A mildly engaging script that offers a less than satisfying resolution, the film never seems to capitalize on the strong performances of its cast. And that the film was directed by Oren Moverman, whose debut, The Messenger, was a critical success, lends one to be even more disappointed.
Little of the drama is necessarily new or engaging. And, as the movie unfolds, one can’t help but identify borrowings from its cinematic precursors such as Bad Lieutenant and Training Day. On the other hand, Harrelson’s performance is, as usual, strong and visceral. Harrelson’s Brown exhibits an aggressive nature and under nurtured intellect that makes him a formidable adversary for all that would challenge him (save his family).
What is a shame, really, is that one can’t help but think that, had the writing been on par with Harrelson’s performance, this could easily have earned the actor an academy award nomination.
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