Thursday, 1 March 2012

Rampart

2011. Dir: Oren Moverman. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright. ●●●●○



It's been a surprisingly long time since I last saw a film that was visually as stunning and arresting as Oren Moverman's Rampart. There are many positive elements to this movie, many aspects of sublime filmmaking that will stick in the memory for a long time, but above all there is the cinematography. Moverman has collaborated again with his The Messenger
DoP Bobby Bukowski and together they have thrown away the rule book, and made a piece of visual art for the screen.



In essence the story can be boiled down to the slow disintegration of corrupt cop Dave Brown, Woody Harrelson giving a career best performance, a violent racist bigot in a LA Rampart division uniform, the scandal (a widely reported culture of cops acting like vigilante gangs and committing violent and profit orientated acts) distilled into one individual. Not that Brown can be remotely described as an archetype, he's barely holding himself together at the beginning, father of two girls who mothers happen to be sisters living next door to each other, he functions purely on alcohol and cigarettes, routinely bullying his female partner and picking up one night stands in seedy bars. Known as "Date-Rape Dave", a moniker based on the alleged murder of a serial rapist Brown has avoided being charged for for years, an example of the vicious animal lurking within.

Yet even this thin veneer of normality is torn apart when he brutally retaliates against a motorist who crashes into the side of his patrol car. It is a cold and hard beating, captured on film by a passer-by, instantly going viral. Brown is taken off front line duty, temporarily, in the whirlwind of appalling press and daily campaigning the department, headed by Sigourney Weaver, attempt to oust him. It's when he decides to fight, when he faces the mounting defence bills that events spiral out of control.

Harrelson is perfect in roles like this, even as his most dislikeable there's a shimmer of magnetic insouciance, like the string of sexual conquests (former wives Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, lovers Audra McDonald and Robin Wright) we find ourselves drawn to Dave. We want to be part of his world. It's testament to Harrelson's performance that even during the depths of depravity he can still draw us in, the cracks of mental defeat, the threats and pleading with his family and friends are never far behind his crumpling facade.

The rest of the performances are also high class. Robin Wright gives a brittle and wounded performance as a lawyer flickering around Brown, like a moth round a flame, a flame that will ultimately burn her. Ned Beatty also reminds us of his electric presence, as a retired cop still in tune with everything going on in the department, Machivellian and reptilian he toys with Brown, playing him off against the department.

The screenplay by Moverman and novelist James Ellroy contains the later's trademark staccato dialogue in a way that no adaptation of his work has managed, indeed the downbeat sprawling open feel towards the end is more Ellroy that anyone could have imagined.

But all this is a sideshow to Bukowski's work behind the camera. He uses Brown's breakdown as an opportunity to showcase new ideas with design, from a dizzying dance of pans during a tribunal to the nightmarish vision of a swingers club each scene dazzles with invention. We get conversations filmed from behind people's heads, repeated uses of reflected light, even the city skyline looks ominous and unusual in Bokowski's lens.

I must recommend Rampart to everyone who gets the opportunity to see it, a fantastic powerhouse of a film that beguiles and overcomes the audience. A must see.

4 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

So glad you're a fan. I'm a big fan of Audra from her work on the stage, and her music but I love her bit turn here. And, boy is Woody fantastic, the entire cast sings, the screenplay is searing and the direction is outstanding. I can't wait to see what Moverman does next.

(Quite a follow up to THE MESSENGER, right?)

Runs Like A Gay said...

I can't imagine Rampart not making the top ten for 2012, and like you I am really excited to see what his next film is - an incredible talent to follow.

Alex in Movieland said...

oh, I'll need to see this. sometime in the next 2-3 months. :) I'm so behind on everything.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Alex,

You need to re-prioritise and make sure this makes it way up your netflix queue, one of the best films in awards conversation last year, absolutely disgusting that it didn't get the recognition it deserves.