Movie Review : Rampart (2011)
Rampart is a 2011 dirty cop drama written and directed by the relatively unknown Oren Moverman, who's most significant prior career achievement was co-writing the script to Todd Haynes' strange Bob Dylan movie I'm Not There. What makes Rampart slightly more intriguing than other unheralded American movies is that it was co-written by James Ellroy himself, author of The Black Dahlia, L.A Confidential and main inspiration for certain television shows with a noted tendency for "borrowing." Ellroy is the absolute best in the business when it comes to overstep morality and piss off the well-thinking. So, I had vested interest in Rampart and intended to love the shit out of it. My unrealistic expectations were almost fulfilled. The execution was superb, yet it lacked the nuance that made other urban dramas such as Nightcrawler incredible.
Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a 24-years veteran of LAPD ruling over their Rampart division. He is violent, unfair and deals justice the ol' American way, using his judgement over the books of law. Everybody puts up with Date Rape Dave (that is such a James Ellroy kind of nickname) because he earned a reputation for putting a serial date rapist underground years ago. His life start coming undone when he is filmed while beating the everloving shit out of an African-American driver who may or may not have deserved it, depending on whether or not you judge that egregious hit-and-runs are deserving of physical violence. The LAPD is already under fire for the Rampart scandal, so they're looking to make Dave a scapegoat to alleviate the pressure on themselves. While the entire world is literally conspiring to bring him down, Date Rape Dave only has himself to rely on and it is not necessarily a good thing.
Rampart is, first and foremost, the character study of a dirty LAPD cop in the Rodney King-riots era. Oren Moverman and James Ellroy leave little doubt that Dave Brown is a horrible person: his two ex-wives are actually sisters, is estranged from his trouble daughters, has sex with numerous nameless women in the movie and I'm not even getting in the professional stuff here. What makes Date Rape Dave a compelling human being, though is his compulsive need to seduce. He is a completely different person around women: he is polite, gentle and asks for clear consent whenever he wants to have sex. Arousing women's desire makes Dave feel loved and validated. Sex is the equivalent of a pit stop for him in this never ending highway of adversity that is Rampart. There is a beautiful, symbolic scene that express his vulnerability halfway into the movie, where he's asking Robin Wright's character to jump in the pool with him. It's a nice (and unusual) foray into Dave's psyche as it is starting to fall apart.
Movies like Rampart put in perspective the romantic and very American idea that justice is a personal endeavor and should be administered through one's judgement rather than a fair, equal and often frustrating system. I call that the Dirty Harry syndrome. Dave Brown takes law into his own hands and uses it to serve his own interests. Now, it also is an American idea that you should protect your own and let the rest of the world burn, but by not playing by the rules and alienating everybody, Dave puts his loved ones at risks. He even begins to doubt some of them at some point. Rampart explores the self-reliant Cowboy myth and exposes it as inadequate in a contemporary, urban setting. I loved how it challenged the romantic notions of self-righteous, personal justice and exposed the ugly side of it. There's an ugly side to everything, but certain ideas are so seducing it sometimes is hard to see.
What I liked less about Rampart and where comparisons with movies like Nightcrawler become pertinent is the single-minded tone. The movie is rather predictable. Part of it is by design, Rampart is meant to be a contemporary tragedy. It is not supposed to have a neatly packaged ending. Part of it, though is... * welp * a screenplay problem. I don't want to criticize James Ellroy's work because I'm such an unabashed fan, but Date Rape Dave is the only character with clear motivations outside of IA cop Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube). So, it's pretty clear from the get-go that Dave is caught in a downward spiral and it's a question of time before he fucks himself over. Writing only one character completely is a pitfall most authors/screenwriters end up falling in eventually and it handicaps Rampart quite a bit. It's still a very good movie, but it had the necessary angle and potency to be transcendent.
I love fictional dirty cops. They're probably my favorite character stereotype. Rampart's Date Rape Dave doesn't disappoint in that regard and offers an intense and complex portrait of ideas otherwise romanticized by movie audiences. It's adorably uncomfortable and not completely heartless in its own, peculiar way. Rampart is unfortunately a little straightforward and predictable, yet not to a point where it becomes unpleasant or boring. It just won't really surprise you at any moment, which is what standout narratives do. Still Rampart is a quality dirty cop film. It shuns conventional morals and offers a bleak, yet not unrealistic portrait of the self-righteous justice mainstream movie audiences are usually so enamored with. I really liked Rampart, but I did not fall in love head over heels with it. My standards were probably unrealistic. Try it, see for yourselves. Either way it won't disappoint you unless you're looking for a bubblegum ending where good triumphs over evil. There concepts don't really apply here.