Sunday, October 16, 2011

London Film Fest 2011 Day 5 - RAMPART

When I walked in to RAMPART I was expecting the movie equivalent of The Wire or The Shield - an examination of corruption and institutional racism in the police force, based on the real Rampart scandal in 1990s Los Angeles. To be sure, director Oren Moverman (THE MESSENGER) and writer James Ellroy impressionistically hint at the wider malaise.  We have cameos from Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver as the ass-covering establishment. But there's no clear picture of the wider context - no attempt to connect the dots and take the viewer to the heart of the corruption, in the  manner of LA CONFIDENTIAL. Rather, this movie is a character study of a fictional policeman at the centre of the scandal - Woody Harrelson's Dave Brown.  

To that end, the centre of the story isn't the police department or the patrol car, but the home Dave shares with the mothers of his two children, who also happen to be sisters (Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon); the bars he frequents; the woman he picks up (Robin Wright).  Because, let us be clear - RAMPART is a scathing depiction of a delusional man, so corrupt he can't even see it, or own it - a self-destructive charmer, who thinks he should be rewarded for "doing the city's dirty work" but can't see that he's destroying his family in the process.  

If you accept the movie as a character study rather than a thriller or procedural, you have a far greater chance of enjoying it. Frustrations with the ambiguities of the graft and the uneven pacing - the lack of real "bite" - are compensated for by the powerful, charismatic and complex central performance by Woody Harrelson and the impressionistic use of intense colour and feeling of claustrophobia created by DP Bobby Bukowksi (ARLINGTON ROAD). Because, in the final analysis, RAMPART is not a great movie - it doesn't hold you in the way that it should - it is, rather, a highly successful mood piece that contains a superlative central performance. I just wish that that performance had been anchored to a stronger supporting text.

RAMPART played Toronto and London 2011.

Michael Stipe and Woody Harrelson at the UK premiere
of RAMPART at the BFI London Film Festival.

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