Rampart is the new drama by director Oren Moverman, who is best known for his 2009 film The Messenger. Once again, Moverman has cast Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as well as new comers to his company, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Robin Wright, Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver. It depicts the story of one hell of jerk of a police officer named Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) who constantly finds himself at the center of scandal due to his violent and aggressive policing style. Based on the real events that took place at the Rampart Police Department in Los Angeles a little over a decade ago, this complex drama delves deep into both a fascinating character and a complicated set of circumstances that aims to make one think over and assess what is "right" and what is "wrong".
Having an asshole as the main protagonist is a very fine line to walk. The character either needs to be interesting enough that despite their repugnant nature, we can't look away in some strange twist on schadenfreude. Or, the character needs to be so charming that we enjoy watching the assholery just as much as the character loves living it. Too often, films fail to have either which leaves the viewer out in the cold. Fortunately, Rampart absolutely has both and in spades. Woody Harrelson is both fun and intriguing. His character is enthralling to watch - first as an outdated cop with a bullheaded mentality in the midst of a new, politically correct department - and then as an unraveling mess of guilt and pride, loneliness and masculine, stoic, self fortitude.
The film is not without it's flaws. First and foremost, it could stand to be tighter. After a while, we get who he is and several scenes felt a little redundant. They don't add to his character or to the story in any discernible way. This is a minor gripe, but had the film tightened up it's pacing, the slower areas would feel more pertinent and engrossing.
The one other criticism I would level against the film is it's potpourri of cinematic styles. Some scenes feature slick dolly moves and crane shots while others exhibit a cinema vérité style of rugged camera work. I enjoyed the cinematography quite a bit in each scene on their own, but in the end, the film lacked a cohesive visual style which diminished the over all impact of the story. In some scenes, the artistic shots and compositions were reminiscent of Taxi Driver while in others, the gritty, documentary style of handheld work was reminiscent of the The Shield - which as it happens is about the very same subject. Both high praises, but in conjunction, too disjointed.
Despite those technical criticisms, it is still a very enjoyable and worthwhile film. All the performances are very solid and the story is captivating. It feels very current in a lot of ways, despite it taking place over a decade ago. This frightening fact is enough reason to see it on its own, but the scene in which Dave Brown successfully picks up a woman in a bar while a video of him violently beating a man plays on the local news right across from her - makes seeing this movie a must.