Movie review: Harrelson is dirtiest cop of all in bleak ‘Rampart’
Los Angeles police officer Dave Brown is an unmitigated monster with a badge. He’s the very embodiment of the term “police corruption,” and in “Rampart,” writer-director Oren Moverman’s searing character study, he’s played by Woody Harrelson with such amoral ferocity that he bears an uneasy kinship to the murderous psychopath the actor played in 1994’s “Natural Born Killers.”
Drawn from a noirish story by crime novelist James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), who shares screenwriting credit, this nerve-jangling cop saga takes its title from the LAPD’s scandal-plagued Rampart division. In the late 1990s, that gang-infested area near downtown L.A. was ruled by renegade cops taking bribes from drug dealers, pilfering cocaine from evidence lockers, brutalizing local citizens and even pulling off a daring bank robbery.
Amid the violence, squalor, chaos and white noise of this precinct strides the dirtiest cop of all – Dave Brown, a feral predator in close-cropped hair, aviator shades and crisp blue uniform.
His street nickname gives ample proof of his vigilante take on the job: Date-Rape Dave, for the suspected serial rapist he shot and killed under suspicious circumstances. In his self-proclaimed code, Brown is an equal-opportunity hater, dissing everyone from women to minorities, suspected perps, innocent bystanders and even fellow cops.
Often the target of Internal Affairs probes, Brown’s latest dust-ups with police brass – personified by disgusted I.A. investigator Ice Cube and attorney Sigourney Weaver – involve strong-arming a petty convenience-store thief, beating a suspect senseless on video (shades of Rodney King) and being involved in a dubious shooting.
And the toxic aura of Brown’s life extends well beyond the job. At home, he maintains an acrimonious relationship with two ex-wives – sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) with whom he’s fathered two daughters. Although he’s cheated on both women, they all manage to live under one roof in an uneasy, volatile truce.
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