Sometimes an outside observer’s keen eye focused on American life in movies offers rare and surprising insights, but it can work both ways. Israeli director Oren Moverman, who scrutinized the raw impact of war on young vets in this country with a profoundly resonant perspective in last year’s The Messenger – in large part drawn subconsciously from Israel’s own tense war culture as a way of life – is on shakier, far less familiar ground when relocating to the inner city war zones confronted by the LAPD in his latest film, Rampart.
Into recruiting once again his edgy actors in the extreme from The Messenger, Moverman has cast Woody Harrelson in nearly every scene as the kind of ranting, borderline depraved movie cop who would have been dismissed from the department if not handcuffed and hauled away himself, years ago. Harrelson is Dave Brown, more commonly known on the street as ‘Date Rape’ Brown, for having possibly murdered outright a sexual predator on his beat in the recent past.
Brown works out of the Rampart precinct in LA, whose corruption scandals were reality back in the 1990s. Additionally, the way beyond temperamental cop is currently being investigated and the subject of prime time news reports, after his Rodney King style beating of a motorist involved in a collision with him, is caught on tape.
But Brown’s turbulent life extends back home as well. Where he shares two daughters with two sister spouses (Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche) that he married consecutively, and is still hitting on the indifferent ex-wives – consecutively – at the dinner table. That is, when not pursuing an upscale temptress in a local bar (Robin Wright), even if he suspects that she may be a prosecutorial plant ‘with litigator eyes’ who is in the act of tailing him. Though this possibly post-feminist dress for success swinger balks at the idea, and claims her thing is more along the lines of pleasuring men on a regular basis. Huh?
Then there are a couple of internal affairs stalkers for real, keeping half-baked tabs on the psychologically disintegrating basket case in blue. Including Sigourney Weaver as an LAPD investigative lawyer who sees right through Brown’s slick, evasive law school dropout moves. And Ice Cube as her undercover partner who recites rather than delivers his lines, and could use a lesson or two in effective stalking and acting. Along with too little seen and heard Ben Foster in a cameo return engagement from his commanding starring role in The Messenger, no less resonant here as a crippled war vet and local snitch.
There’s a jarring combination at work in Rampart, that pits the not exactly in sync, differently potent personalities of director Moverman against the brash, talky gumshoe noir eloquence of co-screenwriter James Ellroy (LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia). Yet without sufficient context of what was truly going down back then and why, either out on the streets or within the damaged mind of Moverman’s depraved protagonist.