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ADVANCE: Rampart - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Rampart
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B-
Editing: B+

Rampart is not a happy movie. And yet, it's impossible to look away. It's not exactly a train wreck. It's a fully realized story, and it's easy to become invested in how things will turn out. And then it kind of ends with it going nowhere. If it weren't for that abrupt ending, with no resolution after the feeling of heading toward resolution, this movie could have been excellent. Instead, it's merely good.

Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, is at his best as David Brown, a truly dirty cop in 1999 Los Angeles. The story takes place that year so the real-life Rampart scandal, from which the movie takes its name, can work as the framework. The massive allegations of police misconduct result in David being used as a scapegoat -- or so David seems to think, anyway.

After a fairly lengthy introduction in which we see David on the job, demonstrating his dubious (at best) approach to his duties, interacting with two ex-wives, he's T-boned in his squad car by a Latino, who tries to flee the scene. David runs him down, and then spends an inordinate amount of time beating him. The scene gets videotaped and handed to the press.

David spends a fair time butting heads with city civil leaders, including the mayor, played by Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is a great actor but not really an inspired casting choice here. Instead of merely observing a character who happens to be the mayor of L.A., you think: That's Steve Buscemi. Sigourney Weaver as the Assistant DA works better. For once, she's shown in all her natural, aging glory -- and she looks and feels like the character she plays, rather than like Sigourney Weaver.

David's home life is odd to say the least. His two ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) are sisters. His two daughters are one from each ex-wife, making them both cousins and half-sisters -- but not, as he has to explain, inbred. The older of the two girls (a lovely Brie Larson) is gay, which causes less direct conflict with her dad than you might expect. All of them live in the same building. The ex-wives spend much of the film trying to push David out of their lives, because they can't take the trouble he gets into anymore.

One of the refreshing things about David is that he's not as simple as most movies make characters like him out to be. He's capable of love. He clearly cares about both his ex-wives and for his two daughters, deeply on all counts. But it would be wrong to say he has a heart of gold. He lives his life deluded. He doesn't comprehend how he hurts the people in his family. When his daughters visit him at a hotel room, and he finally admits that all the bad things people say about him are true, he insists, "But I never hurt any good people." The older daughter says, "What about us?" This just confuses David.

As such, David is a fleshed out, nuanced character in very capable hands with Woody Harrelson. His moral murkiness, and his own inability to comprehend the depths of it, make him compelling. He's no hero, but neither is he a cut and dried villain. Still he's a lot of bad things. In one scene, his daughter rattles off all the things she sees him as: racist, homophobic, misogynist, a misanthrope -- those are about half the words I can remember. When she finishes, David says, "How long did it take you to rehearse that?" before he can help himself. The guy is a douche. Somehow Harrelson makes you feel bad for him.

Director and co-writer Oren Moverman, and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, make a few strange and distracting choices in the telling of this story. A lot of shots are done in extreme close-up, sometimes to the point of seeing only a single eye. I never saw the purpose of this, other than to be distracting. In one brief scene we get to see Harrelson scarfing a giant burrito in a way that's truly in your face, and it's just gross. Cut to him barfing on a wall. In another scene, we're treated to a close-up of him sucking a woman's toes, the screen filled almost entirely by the toes and his panting tongue. Again: gross.

But there's a lot about Rampart that is very well done, not least of which is the bevy of acting talent -- including Robin Wright as an increasingly unhealthy romantic interest; Ice Cube as an Internal Affairs investigator; and Ned Beatty as Hartshorn, a retired cop who was a friend of David's father. Hartshorn plays a significant part in a separate incident adding fuel to the fire already started by the beating. And all of these interactions and incidents unfold without any contrivances, which is always a welcome change of pace.

It's just the manner of telling that gets in the way -- the cinematography, which serves the story only when not unnecessarily extreme, and the ending that elicits a Huh? response. If you're looking for any kind of closure to a story, you won't get any here. But otherwise you'll get a vividly portrayed slice of life in late-nineties Los Angeles.

Woody Harrelson makes a great poster boy for the LAPD in RAMPART.

Overall: B

Local release date TBD.
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