Veterans are lost for a place in the world in Oren Moverman's newest, Rampart. His last, The Messenger, was about veterans responsible for alerting family of deaths and grasping at what felt like a condition of perpetual loss. Rampart stars a craggy and sometimes unidentifiable Woody Harrelson as a Vietnam vet and a 24-year veteran of the police force who's learned to play "bad lieutenant" because, it's implied, the force is like a battlefield: "it's a soldier's job" and that means "no guts, no glory" and "cover your tracks" are principles in regular use. But the Rampart district of the LAPD isn't war and can't take more scandal—nor can this soldier's family, who's had more than their share of tests. Moverman's camera keeps its hands off Harrelson's psyche, letting the drama result from a cool distance (when things get emotional in the third act the, film loses some potency). Limited but strong distribution patterns are expected for this as yet undistributed film. With a powerhouse cast that also includes Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon and Ice Cube, the carefully crafted and trenchant drama will appeal to more audience members than it will to critics, but it won't likely earn the box office expected of a film with such a strong ensemble.
It's 1999 and though the Rodney King riots are seven years behind it, the LAPD is still a scandal. The Rampart station is causing the county the most trouble and as the officer violations pile up, Dan Brown (Harrelson) scoffs and defends his own. When Brown's police car is in a traffic collision (a great scene) the other driver tries to flee the accient, but Dan has a nightstick and a reserve of steam to blow off—and someone in the vicinity has a camera. It's mentioned Brown failed the bar exam, which is meant to explain where his extensive knowledge of cases and quotes and his sense of entitlement. But Brown has been blazing through Los Angeles like a cavalier and unprincipled Dexter, and it's taking this last case to snowball the scandals into something his family and his city can't overlook. His family represents a surprisingly sweet collection of compromises. He's common law married to two sisters (Anne Hecke and Cynthia Nixon), housed in two homes side by side, with the children raised like the spawn of sister wives, much to the kids' confusion. He can't lie to them, which is why after much resistance to his own culpability, it's his daughters who draw out the damage and make his entire process of backhanded justice seem, for a moment, like a gross valentine to them instead of a the testament to his critically inflated authority.
Masculinity is dangerous in Rampart's Los Angeles. It's more threatening and insidious than the supposed crimes our lone cop combats. The film opens at a burger stand where a new female recruit is learning the ropes from Brown and another cop. While the second insults her senselessly, Brown bullies her into eating something greasy though she says she has a cholesterol problem. He relents when she says she didn't know her father. This is Brown's most interesting character rift: he's a bastard, yet he'll be damned if he's not the best father he can be. But you can't simultaneously destroy the world and fix your family, and when Brown's sins catch up with him it's clear the lone wolf won't be let back into the pack.
Distributor: Millennium Films
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Robin Wright, Ben Foster, Ice Cube
Director: Oren Moverman
Screenwriter: Oren Moverman, James Ellroy
Producer: Ben Foster, Lawrence Inglee, Ken Kao, Clark Peterson
Genre: Crime Drama
Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence.
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: January 27 ltd.