Posted November 21, 2011 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Rampart


Back in 2009, Oren Moverman attracted a good deal of attention with his award-winning debut film The Messenger, a sensitive exploration of the human costs of the Iraq war.

Back in 2009, Oren Moverman attracted a good deal of attention with his
award-winning debut film The Messenger, a sensitive exploration of the human
costs of the Iraq war.
Moverman’s second film Rampart finds him teaming up with that film’s stars, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, and veteran crime writer James Ellroy to tell another story of
human weakness in the shadow of historic events. This time the events are those
of the Rampart scandal that rocked the LAPD in the late 1990s. The weakness is
that of a dirty and self-righteous cop who slides further and further into the
mud as forces both historic and psychological grind him beneath their heels.

Dave “Date Rape” Brown (Woody
Harrelson) knows all the angles on the street and inside the station house.
When someone needs a legal precedent, they go to Dave. When someone needs to
break a suspect in order to get a tip off, Dave is happy to help. Whenever the
brass try to hold Dave to account, he simply makes an eloquent speech hinting
at the possibility of political repercussions and the problems just fade away.
Dave’s predatory intelligence and charm also prove useful in a personal life
littered with female conquests including a pair of beautiful sisters who
provide him with sex, free food and a place to live despite having divorced
him.
Rampart
chronicles Date Rape’s fall from grace as he becomes ensnared
in a series of media sh*t-storms that drain his financial resources, sour his
personal relationships and deplete his social capital until the charming
antihero of the opening act is revealed to be nothing more than another brutal
bigot with a badge and a sense of entitlement.

Like so many of the characters in
Ellroy’s novels, Date Rape is perfectly adapted to the world he inhabits and
the fact that such a character has a place in the world serves as a reminder of
how morally compromised that world has become. Indeed, the idea that there is
no place for a person like Dave in a civilised society provides Rampart
with much of its thematic power. Dave, we are told, is the son of an old school
cop and his status as the son of an old school cop gives him access to a
network of contacts embodied by the nameless retired detective played by Ned Beatty. At the beginning of the
film, Dave has a place in the LAPD because the department is still in thrall to
the old and brutal ways of doing business. Most of Dave’s problems stem from
the fact that he simply cannot adapt to the new LAPD being built by ambitious
politicians like those played by Sigourney
Weaver
and Steve Buscemi. Thus
Dave’s fall from grace is not just about his own stupidity but also about power
leaching away from the brutal white men who police the city. Dave’s lack of fit
with the modern world is reflected in the decline of his relationship with his
daughters. By the end of the film, he can no longer understand them and they
can no longer understand him. All they know is that he is wrong.

Rampart is a film built upon three areas of brilliance: The first is
Harrelson’s beautifully muted depiction of a man out of time and out of luck,
the second is Moverman’s depiction of Los Angeles as an over-saturated
psychotropic husk and the third is the absolutely cracking dialogue and
compelling characterisation provided by Ellroy and Moverman’s script. However,
while these three elements combine to make Rampart
an enjoyable and thought-provoking film, you cannot help but feel that we have
seen it all before.

Much like Abel Ferrara’s Bad
Lieutenant
(1992) and Nicolas Winding
Refn
’s Drive (2011), Rampart combines the thematic power and
psychological ambiguity of the hard-boiled crime genre with the elliptical
storytelling and visual impact of art house cinema. Unfortunately, while this
kind of genre mash-up might once have been ground breaking, its tricks and
tropes are now so familiar that they form a genre of their own. Rampart, though a superbly executed
addition to the genre, is never anything more than a rehash of a set of ideas
that are increasingly old and increasingly familiar. Once Dave begins to drown
his sorrows in a lake of drink, drugs and meaningless sex it is obvious that
this path will terminate in an orgy of self-destructive hedonism in a sinister
nightclub. Similarly, when the film hits the ninety-minute mark and shows no
signs of reaching any kind of narrative conclusion, it is obvious that the
ending is going to be both ambiguous and unsatisfying. It is now forty-five
years since John Boorman drove an art house coach and horses through
traditional genre with Point Blank
(1967) and the time has come to stop treating this type of film as anything
other than generic. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Werner Herzog’s The Bad
Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
(2009) found an audience because it
set out to deconstruct the exact same tropes that Rampart employs with an entirely straight face. Once the parodies
start, it is a sign that the culture has moved on and, much like the character
of Dave, Rampart is starting to look
both out of time and out of luck.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com