{2jtab: Movie Review}

Rampart - Movie Review


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5 Stars

Ripped from the headlines of the Los Angeles Police Department’s late-1990’s corruption investigation known as the Rampart Scandal, brilliant noir writer James Ellroy’s story of Rampart narrows its focus down to Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a crooked L.A. street cop who takes the “no guts, no glory” American mythos a bit too much to heart.  As he stubbornly refuses to recognize the effect his abuse of power and authority has on himself and those around him, Officer Brown’s life begins a destructive downward spiral that is the slow burn we watch through parted fingers held in front of our face.

Oren Moverman directs (and co-writes) this virtual one-man tour-de-force after having made his debut behind the camera with 2010’s The Messenger that also starred Harrelson in an equally challenging role as a Casualty Notification Officer who becomes involved with the widow of a fallen soldier.  While Moverman excels in both films by displaying great visual style and the uncanny knack of knowing when to step aside and let his actors act, the star of the show in both was unquestionably Harrelson, who is silently climbing the ranks of go-to actors for these emotionally weighty indie dramas. Though he did receive an Academy nod in 2010, his omission this year is an egregious oversight.

A Vietnam vet and now hard-line precinct cop working in L.A.’s Rampart division, the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi River, Brown sees himself as dedicated to fighting the good fight. Doing the people’s dirty work, even if it means crossing that thin blue line between right and wrong.

But when he’s caught on tape roughing up a fleeing bad guy (a la Rodney King), Officer Brown’s questionable past is dredged up from the filthy bottoms of the man he has become. With the video of the beat-down playing in an endless loop on every TV in sight, Brown’s refusal to change, even when change is the only thing that can save him, becomes the riveting parable at the spine of Ellroy’s and Moverman’s tale.

Meanwhile “Date Rape Dave” as he’s become known after the vigilante killing of a date rape suspect he may or may not have been involved in, is also dealing with a crumbling home life. A place that is supposed to be a source of comfort and replenishment, is instead one of anguish and paranoia as the noose tightens around his relationships with two ex-wives and two daughters. His current partner (Anne Heche) is the sister of his ex-wife (Cynthia Nixon) who lives in the bungalow next door. When his two daughters (one from each of the sisters) ask Dave if they are inbred, his response reflects the wonton nonchalance with which he also views the more serious nature of his work situation: “You are first cousins… and sisters… half.”

As Dave’s descent into hell continues, hastened by booze, pills, and yet another questionable shooting incident, Moverman’s film begins to take on a visual change as well. His camera, under the handling of DP Bobby Bukowski, moves from brightly lit, high contrast shots in the beginning, to a darker palette, and more jittery lens as the film progresses. And Dave Brown begins to disappear too. Color saturation is drained, and foreground elements begin to slightly obscure Dave from the lens, sucking him into the murky environment.

Rampart isn’t an easy film to watch, and is deserving of its R rating. It’s filthy and dirty in both subject matter and visual style. Dave is a terrible cop as well a very bad man.  Though his intentions are to do good things for people, Dave crosses the line when he decides to do bad things to bad people. Though there’s not a lot of upside to a story about what happens to a tortured soul who refuses to change in the direst of circumstances, the film’s magic comes watching Harrelson ply his craft. Though he never turns his Dave into a sympathetic character, it’s a thing of beauty to watch him humanize a monster. He seems to care about those who he hurts, and that connection is critical to viewers.

Memorable turns by Ned Beatty as ex-cop turned informant, Sigourney Weaver as Assistant DA, Ben Foster as a homeless veteran who witnesses many of Dave’s improprieties, Robin Wright as a defense lawyer Dave picks up in a bar, and Ice Cube in the role of an Internal Affairs officer, also stamp the film with commendable supporting performances. But this is Woody Harrelson’s movie and his fans are encouraged to see it now.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Rampart - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence.
: Oren Moverman
: James Ellroy & Oren Moverman
Woody Harrelson; Ben FOster; Sigourney Weaver; Ned Beatty, Ice Cube; Robin Wright
: Drama | Indie
The most corrupt cop you've ever seen on screen.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I am not a racist. The fact is, I hate all people equally."
Optimum Releasing
Official Site:
Release Date: November 23, 2011 L.A., NY; January 10, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
May 15, 2012

Synopsis: Los Angeles, 1999. Officer Dave Brown (two-time Academy Award(R) nominee Woody Harrelson) is a Vietnam vet and a Rampart Precinct cop, dedicated to doing "the people's dirty work" and asserting his own code of justice, often blurring the lines between right and wrong to maintain his action-hero state of mind. When he gets caught on tape beating a suspect, he finds himself in a personal and emotional downward spiral as the consequences of his past sins and his refusal to change his ways in light of a department-wide corruption scandal seal his fate.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

3 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - May 15, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
: English SDH, Spanish
English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A



  • With director Oren Moverman and Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski

Special Features:

  • Featurette
  • Previews

{2jtab: Trailer}