Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver
Motion Picture Rating: 15
Runtime: 108 minutes
There was a time about 15 years ago when I read anything and everything by James Ellroy. My devotion started with the phenomenal book The Black Dahlia, was whipped along by the great LA Confidential and came to a sweet conclusion with the highly impressive American Tabloid. I loved the rat-tat-tat of Ellroy’s feverish writing. He seemed like a man possessed and he mostly wrote about men possessed or paranoid or both. He wrote about crime. His world was dirty and dark, a Los Angeles that we rarely see. His ‘heroes’ all had flaws, they all had issues. And one type of hero consistently emerged from the fray – the righteous, but brutal policeman driven to seek out and punish men that abused women.
Here with Rampart we have a film written by Ellroy that is set in LA in 1999 and that focuses on one LAPD police officer called Dave Brown. He is a classic Ellroy character and this film sifts themes from Ellroy’s back catalogue. Brown is brutal, possibly racist, and almost certainly misogynistic, he has little respect for those above him and he is comfortable cutting any procedural corner. The story of Rampart is his story, but also that of the 1990’s LAPD and of America after Rodney King. It is an intense place and time.
In the role of Dave Brown, Woody Harrelson is astonishing. He is completely wired. Both body and mind are taut. His police officer is of a different time, he’s far too out there for colleagues and bosses and whilst no one wants to deal with him he is stubborn enough not to leave the force of his own volition. Brown unravels through the film following a heavy handed piece of street justice and opportunism and his descent is the story of the film and the Rampart division where he works.
Rampart is not an easy film to watch and certainly does not follow a traditional narrative arc. It jumps around, it’s loud then quiet. There is a stunning section in an underground sex club that assaults the senses. That section and the character of Dave Brown had me thinking of Michael Fassbender’s Brandon in Shame, another difficult, but impressive film. Harrelson carries it all superbly and he is supported by fine actors including Robin Wright, Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver. The composition of shots and the colouring of this film are strong too. This is not for everyone, but lovers of Ellroy will be deeply satisfied with the bad lieutenant at hand.