“This used to be a soldier’s department”. It’s the line uttered by LAPD officer “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) that serves to underscore a state of mind. Rampart is a film that explores the scandalous aftermath of sanctioned brutality. In a division that was defined by corruption, Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) anti-gang unit, ironically enough, was a gang in itself. Following testimonies, government scrutiny on crooked cops would increase, though the extent of corruption remains investigated to this day. Taking place in 1999, Rampart probes the mentality that followed after the scandal, while investigating Dave Brown and his mental state.
Dave Brown received his moniker under the sort of precedence that prompted the Rampart scandal in the first place – Brown killed an alleged rapist. There wasn’t a formal investigation done, but Brown informs people of the story with a certain level of bravado, insuring a woman he meets at a bar that because of him, the individual he killed will “never hurt another woman again”. It’s the sort of back story that gives Brown a sense of nobility as he’s trudging through the streets of Los Angeles. It’s only until a video is captured of Brown brutally beating down an individual does his world get rocked and we begin to see the inner workings of the Los Angeles Police Department. Given the opportunity to divert the media’s attention from the Rampart scandal, Brown is now a scapegoat.
Rampart bares some striking similarities with another 2011 film, Steve McQueen’s Shame. Both pictures portray their central characters in the most naked way, placing them in a world that has essentially driven them to corruption or addiction. With Rampart’s Dave Brown though, he seems to embody the corrupt and lurid city that he’s tasked with defending. There’s not a single scene in Rampart that evokes a misunderstood cop – he takes the law in his own hands and most of all, wants his hands dirty. He’s a soldier fulfilling his duties. This makes Brown’s character particularly inhuman. Scenes where Brown interacts with his daughters are particularly interesting, as it shows a side of him that feels incredibly artificial – his family can see through his façade.
Harrelson handles the role superbly, as he’s precise in his movements and adheres to a pulsating rhythm that keeps the film moving. Moverman impresses again following his 2009 debut, The Messenger. This is an entirely different sort of picture, one that depends on encased emotions and establishing the importance of a city to the psyche of one particular individual. Nine times out of ten, Moverman takes the material in exciting directions, though there can be a handful of gratingly annoying sequences (an office confrontation between Harrelson, Steve Buscemi, and Sigourney Weaver immediately comes to mind). Despite a few missteps, the picture holds together impressively, searing a visage of corruption onto the viewer.