Being a reasonably intelligent person and, like most people, able to understand most things over time, I’m still wondering if it’s me, or the film itself, that’s so confused by the subject matter of bent cops, and what they get up to, in Rampart; a shoddy mess of a film.
With the Rampart scandal of the late 90’s occurring in the background, we see police officer Dave Brown’s (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland) reactions to the scandal, as an investigation into his shady dealings occurs. After a beatdown on a gangbanger makes it to the evening news, Brown gets investigated and chewed out by his own police force in Rampart and has to answer to his crimes, both past and present.
The names of this cast are great on paper, but so vast is the talented name-list that hardly anyone gets a chance to shine (or that much time on screen for that matter); it’s like a revolving door saying “oh hey, we’ve got Steve Buscemi here (Boardwalk Empire) as our police chief commissioner role. Wanna see?” Sure do!… oh he’s only in the move for… like two scenes. Rampart is more of a character piece on Brown, but when you bring such prominent and recognisable names, you expect something out of it; here we have Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Cynthia Nixon (Sex And The City), Ned Beatty (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Ben Foster (Contraband), who are all decent names but relegated to bit, and minor, parts; making a poor show for an ensemble cast.
Harrelson’s portrayal of Dave Brown is solid, but there’s not really much difference between the corrupt cop and the family man that he’s still trying to be. He’s still a decent enough father but a lousy ex-husband, and Dave Brown doesn’t really bring that much to the table of bent police officers to make him much different from most corrupt cops we’ve seen over the years; something which is a bit odd that when the film poster is keen to stress he’s “the most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen”; when he doesn’t do anything half as bad as the stuff Vic Mackey gets away with in the similar style The Shield. Actually, here, it’s more of a case of liking Harrelson as a serviceable, lovable, actor than the character itself.
The entire movie is a blob of unclear mess, and things aren’t explained properly; like Brown’s crazy relationship with his two wives (both sisters) is never really out and out explained. Someone pointed out that one of the two women he hangs around with is his ex, but does that mean the other is definitely his wife or another mistress? Anyway, they clearly love being around Dave since he keeps having it off with them both in a near polygamous relationship, and Dave seems keen to expand his lover’s circle to the level of Big Love with the amount of whoring about he does in Rampart; it’s distracting to the point where you have to wonder if it’s filler or not, since, well, what does Dave Brown really have, apart from the fact he’s a cop, for the ladies to swoon over?
Another unclear snippet is the idea that Brown is a racist; some investigator (Ice Cube, XXX: State of the Union) gets into his face about how he’s going to run Brown down because of his corruptness, so Dave gets in his face with a reasonable comeback, nothing racist at all. Then the guy turns around and calls him a racist to his face. Now, there are some hints that Brown can be racist with his use of language, but never to non-white American faces. He even tells the investigator that he hates people of all kinds, not just black people. They-re trying to play on the race hate from the time period (with the Rodney King riots) but it’s impossible to buy into it here.
To be fair, Rampart has got quite decent police procedurals; you get the feel of the chain of command in the LAPD’s CRASH team at the time; and from the opening scene, where Brown keeps the female officer on probation underneath his boot by ritualistically embarrassing her in-front of superior cops; showing how the more corrupt you are, the higher up the ladder you’re climbing. The dialogue is pretty realistic, and the top brass are well structured in terms of how keen they are to bump off Brown to service their needs and covering themselves after the introduction of the Rampart scandal.
Despite being the title of the film, we don’t really get to know too much about the actual Rampart scandal (apart from it being mentioned in passing conversation and on TV’s and radio in background, it’s not really there). There are no specifics about who started it and why. It just seems very odd. Of course, it’s a set-drop to the story of Brown director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) clearly wants to tell, but watching Rampart you just feel like you’re missing an angle or aspect on the film, by not been given the full picture.
A waste of a quality cast, an un-engaging story, and an incomplete puzzle make Rampart a very missable experience. It doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself and what it does get across just isn’t interesting. If Brown was a better lead character, it could have potentially gone somewhere, but Woody Harrelson being Woody Harrelson does not a good character maketh.
It’s unlikely there was a problem in the connection between my brand new Playstation 3 console and my HD TV, but if there wasn’t, the Rampart DVD is a generally poor transfer; as the picture quality never seemed top notch and, truth be told, was a bit grainy at times.
Rampart is filmed more realistically, compared to a Hollywood style movie, but there were some odd lighting and film techniques which haven’t shown up well on this release, and, although Moverman’s vision of the film apparently comes into a greater light on Blu-Ray, the quality of this release, and the film itself, doesn’t make you want to rush out and try it out in another format.
In a questionable decision, details about the actual Rampart case discussion (on TV’s and radio) are presented with barely discernible audio; only heightening the feeling that you’re missing out on knowledge of the actual scandal, and background to Brown’s situation, since it’s not a piece of American history anyone outside L.A. is likely to be hot on.
Otherwise, it’s a genuinely good sound arrangement with no real faults, barring a few bits of mumbly dialogue. Presented in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Stereo sound as standard, there’s also the always appreciated audio descriptive option.
A pretty thin selection of extras is highlighted by the half hour long “making of” documentary, with cast and crew giving their thoughts on the themes and cast in Rampart. Apart from that, there are multiple interviews with the director and cast members, propped up by standard film trailer, scene selection and English subtitles.
The Bottom Line:
Anyone not familiar with the scandal will feel like they’re missing out on Rampart. It’s only meant to be a backdrop to Brown’s story, but with such bad direction, soaking up the oddness of this movie just seems to lower your intelligence. As Ice Cube says in the extras, “it’s not about the Rampart scandal, it’s about how scandalous Rampart is”, which as it turns out does not make a great movie.