The Woody Harrelson renaissance of late is a wonderful thing. The man can act, and his wild-eyed magnetism lights up the silver screen. Harrelson impresses as Dave "Date Rape" Brown, an out-of-control cop in 1990s Los Angeles, in Rampart, titled for the law enforcement scandal of the same name. Harrelson joins his The Messenger director Oren Moverman again, but their latest collaboration cannot match the emotional depth and precise narrative of their first. A plethora of big-name stars - Ben Foster, Anne Heche and Sigourney Weaver, among others - fill out the film's smaller roles, but Rampart is Harrelson's show. The rogue cop begins to take heat for his conduct, but keeps on rolling without stopping to catch his breath. Rampart adopts this attitude to its detriment, and resolves little before the credits roll.
Brown has spent a twenty-five-year career not taking shit and protecting the City of Angels as he sees fit. This includes trying to run over illegal immigrants in his police cruiser and inadvertently re-enacting the Rodney King beating for a nearby camera. The nickname "Date Rape" came after Brown killed a suspected serial date rapist while on the job. Brown lives awkwardly with his two sister ex-wives, Catherine (Heche) and Barbara (Cynthia Nixon), and daughters, and tells a D.A. investigator (Ice Cube) that he is not racist because he hates everyone equally.
After the video of Brown brutally beating a Hispanic suspect hits the news, he turns to an older confidant with connections in the department, Hartshorn (Ned Beatty), for help getting out of trouble. Before Hartshorn can act, Brown shoots and kills another man while conducting some after-hours business at a gambling house. While his life crumbles around him, Brown pursues icy attorney Linda Fentress (Robin Wright), who seems unfazed by Brown's public displays of violence.
Those looking for Bad Lieutenant-style bad behavior are not going to find it in Rampart, which was written by both Moverman and veteran crime author James Ellroy. Brown is a pretty despicable guy, but most of his misdeeds are referenced and not shown. Brown harshly cuts down his teenage daughter after she calls him a racist and misogynistic, but his behavior proves her right. The bad cop embarrasses his rookie partner about her eating habits and begins verbally abusing Fentress. Somehow his ex-wives still tolerate him coming around, perhaps because he pays the rent, but Brown's daughters are scared and embarrassed to be related.
Rampart at first paints an interesting portrait of a cop forced to change as the society around him begins to demand accountability from law enforcement. The Rampart scandal of the 1990s concerned misconduct in the L.A. Police Department's anti-gang unit, where officers used brutal interrogation tactics and planted evidence. When talking with assistant district attorney Joan Confrey (Weaver), Brown tells her that he will not be forced into retirement and that he deserves a medal for his bravery. Confrey balks at Brown's nerve, but Rampart makes it clear that Brown has no interest in changing his ways. His character is not particularly complex, either, and there is often no rhyme or reason for his actions. Brown frequently stops to talk with homeless paraplegic General Terry (Foster), but one day gets angry and bashes the man with his car door. Brown also flip-flops from begging Fentress for sex and debasing her. The "why" might not matter, but there is little mystery to the man.
After an interesting first hour, Rampart gets stuck in neutral and does not move forward. Harrelson's performance is captivating throughout, but Rampart never achieves a satisfying emotional climax. Because the story is relatively straightforward, the uninteresting detours to a sex club and a tense lunch with the D.A.'s investigator are particularly disappointing. Brown is barely shown on the job, and his twenty-five year tenure is dubious. The film also glosses over much of L.A.'s political climate at the time, which feels like another misstep. While Rampart stalls out before reaching its conclusion, Harrelson's performance alone makes it worth renting.
Rampart is a heavily stylized film, with blown out contrast and explosive colors, but the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer remains impressive. Detail is abundant for faces and in backgrounds, and the image is nicely textured. The skyline of Los Angeles and its vibrant streets are expertly represented, and the transfer handles the bold colors without allowing them to bleed. Blacks are dark and inky, but the transfer gets a bit noisy in these nighttime scenes. Some minor aliasing pops up near the beginning of the film, but there are no sigs of edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is similarly strong, and provides an immersive listening environment. Dialogue is consistently easy to understand, and subtle outdoor effects can be heard from the rear and surround speakers. Gunfire, a car wreck and some of the film's musical selections awaken the subwoofer, which provides for a deep, active mix. Range and clarity are excellent across the board, and only occasionally did I want a little more response from the rear speakers. An English 2.0 Dolby Digital track is also available, as are English SDH and Spanish Subtitles.
In the Commentary from Director Oren Moverman and Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, Moverman talks about working with Harrelson, developing the "Date Rape" character and stocking the cast with veteran actors, and Bukowski discusses the film's bold look. There is little dead air on this track, and Moverman is an engaging speaker. The only other extra is titled Featurette (30:05/SD), and it includes interviews with the cast and crew about the film, the Rampart scandal and shooting in Los Angeles.
Woody Harrelson continues to churn out excellent performances, this time as Dave "Date Rape" Brown, a corrupt cop in the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division. The racist, misogynistic and brutal Brown must face the fire when a video of him beating a suspect hits the news, but the veteran cop refuses to change his hard-knock methods. Rampart stalls after the first hour and resolves few of its inquiries, but Harrelson's performance alone makes it worth watching. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.