Two years ago, writer/director Oren Moverman teamed up with Woody Harrelson for a film called The Messenger, which explored the personal turmoil and increasing damage war caused on the lives of soldiers. That film was for me and many others a great achievement that showcased something most of us had forgotten: that Woody Harrelson is in fact an absolutely brilliant actor. This is time around they’ve teamed up for a film that again proves how great Harrelson is, but the film itself is nowhere near as great as The Messenger.
In Rampart, Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt, racist, sexist and all around dirty cop named Dave Brown. After being caught on tape brutally beating the hell out of a man, Brown has found himself in the spotlight and the target of investigations for the purpose of kicking him out of the police force. As the investigations commence, all of Brown dirty secrets start to come out and rapidly his life starts to crumble down. But as he soon discovers, these all may be a part of bigger set-up.
With Rampart, Oren Moverman has pretty much called back the cast from The Messenger and added some few notable names as well. Moverman uses the supporting characters in Rampart like a road trip film uses them, by making them appear no less than 2 or 3 times with some sort of speech or message for the protagonist to think about. Ben Foster is easily the best, as his mentally unstable homeless man is highly empathetic and unsettling. Robin Wright also shines as a sexually-charged lawyer that wants to help Brown, but eventually falls victim to his craziness. The rest of the supporting cast is effective but mostly criminally underused, especially Steve Buscemi whose role was so small and uneventful that I questioned why he even agree to be in it.
Rampart is a Woody Harrelson show and he has crafted one of the best performances of his career. Harrelson effortlessly conveys a huge sense of intimidation and inner corruption alongside a complete disregards for anything that is good that makes feeling empathetic a challenge. His character is unlikable all the way through and there is no moment of clarity for him, but even with the intimate instances in which we see how all this controversy is damaging his family life and his daughters’ image of him, at the end it’s still very difficult to root for him. As a result, the film is hurt a lot and I’m sure some people will even want him to get arrested and lose everything. Dave Brown is and extremely selfish character who hurts everyone else and he never truly learns the errors of his ways.
Having said, I am glad Moverman and Harrelson decided to keep the character somewhat blind from his mistakes and didn’t force a change of perspective that would’ve felt completely out of character. Sometimes flawed and selfish people remain the same even after tragedy strikes and the film itself makes a point of showing how no one changes no matter what we think or might want. In that respect, I feel that Rampart approaches things fairly realistically even though as a whole things get dull by halfway through. This is largely because one you’ve spend some time with Harrelson’s character you know he’ll remain the same throughout so you can pretty much predict everything that will happen later on.
To be completely honest, I didn’t like Rampart at all. Woody Harrelson gives a brilliant performance, but when the film is riding on such an unlikable and never-changing character one feels a sense of pointlessness slowly overpowering the proceedings. The supporting cast is effective and there are some powerful and touching moments in the film, most notably the ones involving Dave Brown and his daughters. However, Rampart does not provide us with any new information on the workings of corruption among law enforcers and at the end there is no lasting emotional and thoughtful impact to be found. If you’re expecting something like The Messenger then you’ll be disappointed, but here’s hoping that Moverman and Harrelson follow-up will be far better than Rampart.