In the ’90s, the LAPD ’S Rampart division imploded due to widespread corruption. The word “rampart” itself brings to mind outdated defences – things that don’t bend but break. Perhaps the latter is more relevant to Oren Moverman’s (The Messenger) second film.
A James Ellroy (LA Confidential) script rewritten by the director, the film pushes the scandal to the background, focusing on (fictional) accused officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) at the expense of all else. This includes the fantastic female cast: Robin Wright as Brown’s lover, Sigourney Weaver as his angry boss, plus Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon as his even angrier ex-wives.
Like Lt Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now in civvies, “Date-Rape” Dave (the name comes from a Vice Squad “incident”) is a colossal character – dissolute and unyielding, a lit cigarette forever gripped in his teeth like the poisonous certainties he clings to.
Harrelson is phenomenal: gaunt, wirehaired, without vanity as Brown’s legal and moral trespasses slowly crucify him.
The problem is that we learn little more about Brown than he does. The incredible ensemble (also including Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube and Ben Foster) are just helpless walk-ons, and Moverman’s twitchy camerawork is a mixed blessing.
Sometimes it’s like watching the most extreme episode of COPS ever filmed. At others, it’s distracting – there are only so many two-shots where one character’s hair obscures the other’s face that you can handle.
It’s a brave move in a brave movie – but watching a man banging his head against a wall for 108 minutes is, by necessity, a frustrating experience.
Moverman’s plummeting psychological profile shows great taste but poor judgement – the wonderful cast and convincing plot sacrificed in service of the exceptional Harrelson.