Rampart (Movie Review)

If you’re going to make a movie about cops, you’ve got a few templates to choose from:  you can do the “Rookie Story”, where you follow an up-and-comer through the ranks as he achieves his goal of becoming a decorated police officer;  you can go the “Grizzled Detective” route, and put an embittered, brilliant detective to work on whatever mystery your script entails;  and, of course, there’s the “Crooked Cop” route.   At this point, the “Crooked Cop” story has been told, re-told, re-imagined, remixed, and re-sequalized a billion different times, so going that route means bringing something special to the table.  Does Oren Moverman’s Rampart manage that feat, or does it rank amongst the worst of the “Crooked Cop” genre?  Read on to find out, folks.  


Let’s get this out of the way upfront:  I’m a big fan of the “Crooked Cop” genre.  I’m no fan of cops in general (I’ve simply had too many unpleasant experiences with too many unpleasant cops to look favorably upon that institution, though I’m well aware that the proverbial “good cop” must exist somewhere), but I do love seeing bad cops being bad.  From The Departed to Bad Lieutenant, this is the kind of cop movie that I can get behind.

And so, it should come as no surprise that I was a big fan of FX’s dearly-departed series, The Shield, which starred Michael Chiklis as the bad cop to end all bad cops, Vic Mackie.  I’ve watched The Shield from beginning to end three times, something I’ve never done with any other TV series…ever.  As far as I’m concerned, The Shield remains the pinnacle of “Crooked Cop” storytelling, and it might be a long time before anyone comes along and knocks it off its crooked little throne (especially a “Crooked Cop” film;  The Shield has the advantage there, as it had seven seasons or so to tell its story).

I’ll say this for Rampart, though:  it gets a helluva lot closer than a number of other “Crooked Cop” movies or TV shows I could name.



Rampart tells the story of Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson, firing on all cylinders and clearly engaged by the material), a—you guessed it—crooked cop living and working in Los Angeles.  Dave is as crooked as crooked cops get, but Moverman’s smart in slowly easing us into Dave’s disturbed behavior:  we don’t pick up the plot with Dave murdering a suspect in cold blood on a crowded city street.  Rather, we see Dave at work (and at home, and more on that in a moment) and are able to piece his badness together bit by bit.  Eventually, it all comes to the forefront, and Dave’s caught doing something (on camera, of course) that puts him—and his department—in no small amount of hot water.  Will Dave be able to weasel his way out of this tricky situation?  Or will his arrogance be his downfall?

I’m being particularly vague about the plot here, because discovering the depths to which Dave Brown will sink is—let’s face it—half the fun of a movie like this.  I will, however, note that Moverman’s  (and co-writer James Ellroy’s) script does present a strange, hard-to-swallow bit of material in its portrayal of Dave’s homelife.  Here, we see that Dave lives in what appears to be a duplex with two of his ex-wives, both of whom have a single daughter by Dave.  Hard to believe, ain’t it?  Well, it gets better:  turns out, both Dave’s ex-wives are sisters.  When this particular plot point makes itself known, it’s so difficult to believe that it actually detracts from the film’s overall sense of believability.  With Ellroy and Moverman having spent so much time essaying reality in virtually every other scene in the movie, it’s a bit jarring that this is how they decided to portray Dave’s personal life.



Hard to swallow, yes, but it’s gotta be said that this particular setup leads to a number of very powerful, very compelling sequences.  All of this is bolstered by the best performance that Harrelson’s given in years, supported by some truly outstanding work by Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon (as Dave’s former wives/sisters), Ned Beatty (as Dave’s go-to ex-cop, the guy that gives Dave leads on some of his more nefarious criminal activities), and Ice Cube (as an Internal Affairs investigator who’s determined to nail Dave’s ass to the wall).  The script—barring that one hard-to-buy element—is absolutely fantastic, and with these actors in charge of delivering it, Rampart becomes something very special.

Things don’t really build to an explosive, Training Day-esque finale, but you can tell that Moverman and Ellroy weren’t interested in that.  Instead, Rampart is here to give us a “slice-of-life” look at someone we’d never want to spend any time with—a crooked cop who’s actually much worse than Vic Mackie, when ya think about it—and make us ponder how many men-in-blue out there are similarly troubled.  It’s a dark, twisty little movie that’ll stick with you for a few days after you’ve seen it, and I highly recommend giving it a shot.  Even if you’re not a fan of the “Crooked Cop” genre, you’ll be blown away by Harrelson’s performance.





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