Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Rampart" (2011) - Movie Review

“Rampart” is where you are surprised completely yet not shaken by it. Woody Harrelson gives one of those performances where an actor almost gives himself completely to the requests of a director as the belief in the script has driven them to extend themselves beyond the normal reach for performance. Like Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and of course Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas”, Harrelson provides himself completely to Oren Moverman’s “Rampart”. The result though is a film that provides a unique look and presentation is drawn down by its creativity. Hence as much as Moverman’s picture is versatile, skillful and raw, it fails to connect with its audience. Even in the wackiness of Nic Cage’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”, there was an element of comedy, bizarre and a surreal world in real life scenario evoking a strange sense of experience. “Rampart” is too serious to be taken lightly and too empty to have a connection to its central character.

Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is in the midst of the Rampart Scandal. He has earned the nick name of Date Rape Dave because he allegedly killed a serial date rapist. He lives with his two ex-wives who are sisters (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) with one daughter each. His dinner conversations involve asking each of them to sleep with him. When both rejects, he heads up to the high end bar to pick up woman, successfully of course. He is clean shaven, precisely dressed and is the man every woman wants to sleep with. Then he goes on the street and conducts himself in a chaotic self proclaimed justice. One such lands him beating a man almost to death that gets caught in a camera. His immersion into deep end begins there.

Moverman and his cinematographer Bobby Bukowski goes for the raw look that brings the face of Harrelson with biting his cigarette constantly and gnawing through it. The screen drips with golden tint that is more for an ugliness and brightness than glamour. Harrelson’s Brown has been in the department for 24 years and has conducted his business with connections and blue code of brotherhood. Now when the times are rough and the politics are playing its sweeping work, Brown is on the list and even then he pulls his strings from outside. One such is his dad’s friend, a retired police officer Hartshorn played by Ned Beaty. Their first meeting sets up the first unique shot for the film. We see Brown’s back of his head blocking Hartshorn’s face and then Hartshorn’s blocking Brown’s face. They go long back but when it comes to helping, it can only go so much without scratching each other’s back.

This is a slow demise of this police officer where the end is imminent and redemption is by far hiding and afraid to even sneak its face for this corrupt man. He has no consideration to anyone but he has no trouble attracting people. There is Robin Wright as the lawyer Linda he hooks up with in the bar he frequents. Both seem to know their kind but Brown has gone far too deep and it is a shock to see Linda hang on to this man as long as she does. 

Despite the impeccable acting of Harrelson, “Rampart” lacks the connection. Its humour only distances its character. There is no redeeming quality in this man that as the film progresses, it is a train wreck we want to look away but Harrelson is too mercurial to look away from. He is skinny, strong and the vein on his forehead is always popping up. He is scary, inconsiderate and loose cannon would be putting it very mildly. He appear to love his daughters though one of them has departed away from him mainly due to the domestic hanging bridge of a situation he has created. The sisters are done with him as the pressure of media, finance and of course the man himself causes them to kick him out. Alone, desperate and on the edge, he spends in the hotel drinking, popping pills he  threatened the pharmacist to give him wondering on the end he seem to not give in. He is ready to rob a big stake card game and ready to kill and threaten the witnesses. Ben Foster comes as this homeless person in couple of scenes and makes a mark in an unusual manner. Here is an actor who gave a dedicated role in Moverman’s “The Messenger” grows a beard, sits on a wheel chair on ragged clothes begging for drinks and cigarettes. And we see a homeless man doing that with a strange appreciation of pride in his own terms and gives an insanity of different kind.

“Rampart” is a presentation of pure corruption in action and the man’s chaos makes us to not have a firm ground on what is his motivation. He seem to enjoy the power but he does not come out and say it nor his actions provide that feeling. Is he a vigilante? Definitely not as he flexes the morality and justice as it benefits him more than anything. He appears not be a sociopath as he loves his children and wants to be liked at least. He has though all the sickening qualities in the most despicable manner. I think as much as Harrelson provides one of his best performances, the screenplay by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman stumble upon to create a base for the audience to either empathize, entertain or define to appreciate this unique presentation. “Rampart” is a good film and is an impressive one but it seem to have been succumbed by the purity of the presentation.

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