Film Review: Rampart

2.5

Woody Harrelson has proven time and time again that he has some serious acting chops. He has etched a place for himself as the go-to guy to play a hard ass. Though it seems to be the same basic character in his most recent films (Rampart, The Messenger, Zombieland), he adds a little something to each portrayal to make them all unique. There has been strong buzz about his turn in Rampart and it is well deserved. Harrelson reteams with Oren Moverman who directed him to his most recent Oscar-nominated performance in the 2009 film The Messenger. Though Harrelson plays his role well, the rest of Rampart lacks any sort of identity.

Rampart takes place in 1999 and revolves around Officer Dave Brown, a corrupt veteran cop working for the LAPD’s Rampart division. Dave is a man torn between juggling the twists and tangles of his personal life and his rough and gritty professional life as they both come crashing down.

The premise is promising and contains both well-written dialogue and strong actors. Neither of those factors can make up for the poor execution. Moverman never takes the film beyond its initial premise. Dave is a crooked man with deep-set issues and nothing ever changes. Instead of having any sort of character development, the audience is left to wallow around with Dave in his poorly managed life. There are moments presented in the narrative to force the audience to feel pity for Dave, but they don’t work because he is such a despicable individual. It’s not that I was looking for some sort of contrived, bow-tied ending, but a sense of purpose for this story would have been nice. This lack of purpose causes the film to move at a snail’s pace. It only clocks in at 108 minutes but, honestly, feels closer to 4 hours.

On the visual side, the film goes with an overexposed look throughout. Everything is constantly blown-out and at points borderlines on irritating. I assume that they did this to help hide that fact that it is a low-budget film that takes place in 1999 filming in modern day, but it caused far too much eye-strain. Most of the film uses the handheld-documentary style and it works fine for this sort of film. The rest of the film decides to delve into artsy territory with dizzying “Lazy-Susan” shots in one scene and a near seizure-inducing strobe-edited rave scene. I am never against unique styles of cinematography or editing, but some of the choices Moverman makes for this film are nauseating. The lack of direction in the narrative makes his stylistic endeavors seem unmotivated and placed in the film just for the sake of being there.

Oren Moverman crafted an amazing film with The Messenger and it rightfully earned a spot in my top 10 for 2009. It set the bar high for his follow-up film, but sadly, Rampart never quite reaches those standards. This film presents the audience with yet another amazing performance by Mr. Harrelson and well-written dialogue to help fuel that performance, but the tediousness of the narrative and the nauseating technical choices ultimately plunge this film into the realm of mediocrity.

If you are a fan of Harrelson, strong acting performances, or the crooked cop sub-genre, then this film might be worth a viewing. I cannot give a full-hearted endorsement to anyone that falls outside of those parameters. Instead, check out Moverman and Harrelson’s last team-up The Messenger. It is more deserving of your time.

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