Stephen Rebello reviews Oren Moverman's latest film Rampart starring Woody Harrelson
Director: Oren Moverman Rating: R Studio: Amalgam Features
If you’re a fan of one-man shows, you might want to grab a look at Woody Harrelson tearing it up in the new cop thriller, Rampart. Directed by Oren Moverman (The Messenger) from a screenplay he wrote with mad dog noir novelist James Ellroy, the movie is set during the police corruption scandal that rocked L.A. (well, temporarily, anyway) in the late ‘90s. Harrelson stars as an utterly corrupt, trigger happy, sick-souled cop caught on tape beating to a pulp a guy who crashes into his cruiser. Nicknamed by fellow officers “Date Rape,” Harrelson’s character is a swaggering, amoral, unrepentantly old school head-cracker pretty who much embodies the entire culture of corruption.
The guy’s unraveling comes when he falls under the intense scrutiny of superiors like Sigourney Weaver and D.A. investigator Ice Cube who have apparently been onto him for some time. For the course of the movie, we follow Harrelson through dive bars, daily dirty deals, a sex club and a couple of one-night stands (Audra McDonald makes a mark as one of them). He also makes occasional pit stops to survey the collateral damage he has caused a pair of sisters played by Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche, who are his ex-wives, and there’s also a troubled, down-bound lawyer for whom he is an apparently tempting piece of sexual rough trade (Robin Wright).
Bobby Bukowski shot the film and the thing feels largely improvisatory. It drifts and weaves without taking narrative aim and it’s occasionally overly showy with too many cocked angles, revolving cameras and soundtrack tricks. It’s too bad that potentially rich characters, well played by Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, John Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Chuti Tiu and others, turn up only to fall away into inconsequence. But Harrelson – playing a kind of Travis Bickle with a badge – is the real show here. Looking like a hungry wolf and lobbing verbal grenades like, “I am not a racist. I hate all people equally” and “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met … in this bar,” he is funny, scary, tragic and will make your skin crawl. Harrelson makes a banquet out of leftovers from other, better movies. Still, he’s so good that you won’t be able to take your eyes off him.