Rampart tells the story of “Date Rape” Dave Brown (Woody Harrleson), a wiry corrupt cop in LA. Looking noticeably veiny, Harrleson reportedly lost 25lb for the role. Set during the fallout from the Rampart scandal in 1999, which was one of the most widespread cases of police misconduct in the history of the US with more than 70 police officers implicated, Dave Brown’s actions and methods are called into question. Not unjustly so, as after a driver crashes into his car he is filmed beating him mercilessly.
Shot in a grainy, handycam style, Harrleson is on fine form from the get go, bullying a female colleague and driving his car straight at a gang on the street. After a strong start though, the film rapidly loses steam, getting bogged down in showing him as corrupt but strangely never condemning him. It feels like an attempt to leave him as a potential ambiguous anti-hero, but the only real ground for such a claim would be his conviction. Yet, while this is steadfast to begin with, it does eventually begin to wane, leading to affecting and moving scenes, be it all too briefly. Largely though, the attempt at ambiguity leads to an overall lack of closure, and while this may be intentional, as co-scriptwriter, crime novelist James Ellroy has often remarked “Closure is bullshit”, it still leads to an end that feels unsatisfying.
Still, given what he has, Harrleson does what he can. His interactions with his his ex-wives (both of whom he lives with, and they happen to be sisters) and his children appear believably awkward and stilted, and yet despite all this he still manages to be a convincing womaniser, picking up women whenever the two he lives with refuse to sleep with him. He’s an immature child living in a world of his own creation, and thus it’s hard not to gain some enjoyment from his downfall. While briefly entertaining when he attempts to use his brain to talk his way out of trouble, the film as a whole is too downbeat to really get you on his side.
The main problem with “dirty cop” movies however, is there’s just so damn many of them. It’s a character stereotype that’s as old as “the girl next door” or the “lovable rogue”. In such a crowded field, Rampart needs to do more than average to stand out, and despite some valiant work from Harrleson, average is exactly where this film lies.