February 12, 2012

Rampart(2011) -Movie Review

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Nothing fascinates like a dirty cop. In real life they're terrifying, but in the movies their upending of law and order can open deep explorations of psychology, morality and violence. So meet Dave Brown, Brown is a cop long ago unleashed from the rules of the Los Angeles Police Department. Roving the streets in his black-and-white cruiser, he governs and punishes at will.  

Anyone familiar with the TV series The Shield already knows the basic premise of the James Ellroy-penned, Oren Moverman-directedRampart, a movie that—like The Shield—is based on the real-life case of a corrupt division of the LAPD. Woody Harrelson plays one of those dirty cops: a pill-popping, self-proclaimed fascist who won’t let public shaming, federal investigations, or alienation from his family stop him from using excessive force on suspects, or from orchestrating his own crimes.

Brown is a man of many vices, a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, pill-popping, womanizing, racist sexist cop who hides his hatefulness under a veneer of fearsome intelligence and charisma. He's a law-school grad who failed the bar, but the ease with which he quotes legal precedent on the job suggests that he failed only because he lacked the motivation to pass.

Brown is exactly the sort of hard-talking tough guy one would expect in a film with Ellroy's name attached, but Harrelson suggests his heart isn't entirely calloused over. The actor, in one of his finest performances, delicately finds the shred of humanity in a man capable of great inhumanity. He's too far gone for us to feel much sympathy for him, but somehow he recognizes that he's destroying things he legitimately cares for — not least his connection to his daughters — and it's those stakes that become paramount for the viewer. Moverman gets away with a protagonist who it's impossible to root for by making sure we care about the fallout of his meltdown.

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