Rampart (15)


Stuck at the scenes of the crimes

Here's an idea for a movie: the story of an LA cop who doesn't take backhanders, doesn't plant evidence, doesn't beat up suspects, doesn't spout racist abuse, and doesn't flagrantly disregard his force's proud motto "To Protect and Serve".

He is an untested type, and will not be coming to a theatre near you very soon. Movies about his polar opposite, however, will never be in short supply – think Richard Gere in Internal Affairs, James Cromwell in L.A. Confidential, Denzel Washington in Training Day, Kurt Russell in Dark Blue. Et multi alii. To this roll of dishonour we can now add Woody Harrelson, whose dirty cop in Rampart seems to be contending for the biggest sleazeball on the beat. It's a crowded market out there.

The film is written, almost inevitably, by James Ellroy, connoisseur of all things rotten in the City of Angels. His co-writer, and the film's director, is Oren Moverman, whose brilliant debut, The Messenger (out in the UK last year), also starred Harrelson as an army officer deputed to "casualty notification" – bringing the bad news to the relatives of soldiers killed on active duty. If that film was about coping with a difficult job, Rampart is all about not coping, about making a difficult job much worse. Harrelson plays LA patrol cop Dave "Date Rape" Brown, whose unfortunate moniker alludes to a notorious case in which he may have murdered a serial date rapist.

It is by no means the only black spot on his record. The trouble with Dave is that he regards police work as a licence to do pretty much as he likes. "This used to be a glorious soldiers' department," he says of the old days, but now it's 1999, and in the wake of "Rampart" (an actual scandal that exposed deep-lying corruption in the LAPD gang units) the force is under renewed scrutiny: dinosaurs such as Dave are on the way out.

His personal life is also in disarray, what with two semi-detached ex-wives who happen to be sisters (Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche) and a sulky teenage daughter who greets him, "Hey, Date Rape." It's not a happy household, so when Dave isn't popping pills, gargling scotch or cheating on his taxes he's picking up women in singles bars.

Moverman takes his time sketching in the shape of Dave's life and the sun-blasted streets on which it's played out. His camera focuses intently on Harrelson's tanned head, as bald as a snake's, seen through the moving window of his police cruiser.

Moverman's shooting style is faintly Altmanesque, favouring zooms and overlapping dialogue; in one scene he keeps panning left-to-right in a three-way conversation, possibly to suggest Dave's mental disorientation under the influence of booze and uppers – or possibly just for the hell of it. As a study in character it feels incisive and detailed, though you start to wonder if it isn't rather plot-starved. Then something does happen: Dave metes out a Rodney King-style beating to a miscreant who happened to rear-end his car. The incident is caught on video, and suddenly Dave's mug is smeared all over the TV news: another PR disaster for the force. He's hauled before the district attorney (Sigourney Weaver) who asks him, "Have you thought about retirement?"

It's a fair question, but Dave isn't the type to go quietly. The picture starts to crowd with plot prompts. A woman he picks up, Linda (Robin Wright), turns out to be a defence attorney who could help him. Strapped for cash, he asks an old cop friend (Ned Beatty) to help him with a loan but gets unwanted advice instead: "You could just stop beating people up."

A wheelchair-bound vagrant (Ben Foster, Harrelson's co-star in The Messenger) may have witnessed Dave shooting a man during a stick-up – will he try to blackmail him? With several directions for the plot to take, we wait to see which one it will pursue. And, astonishingly, it chooses none of them. The film scuttles sideways, and in circles: but it refuses to go forward. It's as if Moverman and Ellroy have put the stew in the pot but won't turn on the oven.

Did they become mesmerised by Harrelson's performance? It is a powerhouse turn – he's in every scene – showing not just the brutality and cunning of this professional thug but also qualities that people respond to, such as his affability and insinuating charisma. (He also indulges in some fancy wordplay, courtesy of Ellroy one imagines, that doesn't quite click.)

Harrelson holds the thing together, and plays off the others potently. His verbal jousts with authority figures Sigourney Weaver (who's terrific), Steve Buscemi and Ice Cube are riveting; it's as though Dave raises his game whenever he's in danger of being cornered. To Ice Cube's Internal Affairs investigator he says, "I'm not a racist. I hate all people equally."

Scene by scene the picture works, stumbling only on a movie cliché of the psychologically damaged when Dave calls at an underground sex club (Michael Fassbender tried the same thing in Shame) and scoffs a greasy taco – a frightening spectacle in itself.

Thinking about it now, The Messenger didn't contain much of a plot either, but it didn't need a motor to sustain its series of agonising encounters. Rampart is different, because it assembles the elements of a thriller and then doesn't bother to resolve them. It frustrates the more for having so many scenes that are pointed and well-written – and go nowhere. Perhaps that's just Moverman's métier, to write great scenes and hire brilliant actors to play them. It's more than most directors are capable of. But in the end this is like Dave's police work: lots of energy, not much discipline.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own
    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England