In a sizzling performance, Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt and brutal LA cop trying to stay alive and out of jail. Woody’s Dave Brown is always seeking control. He manipulates his superiors. From behind his badge, he unleashes sadistic brute force on every other unfortunate within his sight. Yet he is a man out of control, whose impulses to bully, to drink and to seduce increasingly endanger his job security, his finances and what is left of his relationship with his family. He is already skating on the edge of self-destruction when one brutal incident is caught on video and goes viral a la Rodney King.
Rampart benefits from the one of the best large supporting casts – less an ensemble than a series of great single performances as individual characters tangle with Dave Brown. Ben Foster (The Messenger) is brilliant as a homeless man with too many drugs and not enough meds. Robin Wright is also superb as an emotionally damaged lawyer who sleeps with Dave until his paranoia takes over. Sigourney Weaver and Ice Cube are two LA officials who see Dave as a walking, talking threat to public order and the City treasury. Ned Beatty is the retired cop who has kept his finger in the police corruption racket. The Broadway star Audra McDonald plays a cop groupie that Dave meets in a bar. As one would expect, Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon are excellent as Dave’s two amiable but bullshit-proof ex-wives. Brie Larson and Sammy Boyarsky are especially effective as the daughters, who figure in Rampart‘s most breathtaking scenes.
Rampart is a singularly visual film – we always know that we are in the sunwashed, diverse, sometimes explosive anarchy that is LA. The movie is structured and shot to heighten the experience of both the chaos that Dave causes and that the chaos that he feels. This is Oren Moverman’s second effort as writer-director, the first being the searing The Messenger, also starring Harrelson and Foster. Moverman keeps Rampart spinning along wildly as we wonder what will happen next to unravel Dave Brown’s life.
If you need some redemption to leaven a very dark story, this is not the movie for you. Rampart reminds us that not everyone finds redemption. It made my list of the Best Movies of 2012 – So Far.