Rampart is set in LA in 1999. Dave Brown is a cop in LA in the Rampart Division. He seems to be a very old-school cop, one that thinks he owns the streets because of his profession. This mentality is what gets Dave in trouble. He is caught on tape beating someone up pretty badly. The video hits the press and before you know it, the public is calling for his head after yet another case of police brutality in LA. The police department is trying to kick him off the force, but Dave is fighting it vigorously.
There are events that are alluded to in the film that depict Dave as a far more complex person and a guy with a conscience. He has the nickname on the force of “Date Rape Dave.” While the name has a very negative connotation, there is an explanation of how he got that name. He is assumed to have killed a serial date rapist. While Dave was never indicted for the crime, it is widely known that he probably did it. This immediately gives the audience the impression that he has some moral backbone, and he cannot be all bad. He also has two daughters who he tries to have some sort of relationship with, showing that he is attempting to be a father figure, albeit not a very good one.
Dave is a complex guy and, while the film is quick to label him as “bad,” there are too many things going on in the film to simply write him off as a one-dimensional character. The film does not do a good job in elaborating on why he does the things he does or why he has made the choices he has. It is simply not clear how Dave got to be this way. Dave is a Vietnam veteran and has gone to law school. He failed the bar, so he ended up being a cop. He has been married twice to sisters, having one daughter by each. He has relationships with women that basically turn out to be flings. There is just so much going on with this character in this film to be a straight “bad cop” film.
While Rampart is some sort of police division, it is mentioned in passing that something happened in the department that was controversial, but it is never explained. In a bad decision, the department keeps Dave in uniform even after his beating incident, letting Dave continue in his abuse of power. This goes against any common sense the police department has and putting him back on the streets with a gun is pure idiocy, even with police union rights.
While those have seen the film may agree that Woody Harrelson has played his character well, the story and its shortcomings prevent his performance from being stellar. The film is filled with well-known actors, some you may recognize right away (Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buschemi), and others are hidden by their own great performance and costume (Ben Foster).
The way Rampart was shot is unique compared to other cop drama films. It has a very indie feeling to it. Camera angles and roaming shots during conversations all contribute to this feeling. At one point, Dave goes for a night of partying in some underground club mixed with a sex club. The whole vibe of the film went to this oddly techno place as I thought something went wrong with the copy I was watching.
Rampart is by all means a “bad cop” drama, but it makes the main character complex enough that I wondered what else happened in this guy’s life on top of what has been vaguely told. The film takes the audience on a confusing ride through Dave’s life. Woody Harrelson gives a good performance that could have been better with a more clear (again, less complex) film.
I give Rampart 2 “aviator sunglasses” out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek