Rampart: directed by Oren Moverman; written by Oren Moverman and James Ellroy
Two years ago Oren Overman delivered one of my favourite films of 2009, the very inconspicuous but very moving The Messenger featuring a tour-de-force performance from Ben Foster (with excellent supporting turns from Samantha Morton and Woody Harrelson) about a deployed soldier now Casualty Notification Officer , unable somewhat to make emotional connections with those around him. This time around he’s crafted Rampart a study of a police officer in 1999 Los Angeles with Harrelson as lead player this time. This protagonist, too, is not quite adept at carving emotional connections but he’s not as sympathetic. Dave Brown is a corrupt cop in the LA Rampart department, he’s living with his two ex-wives, sisters themselves, and his two children – one from each woman. A typical day of his is spent unnecessarily brutalising potential criminals, hitting the bars for a one-night stand and then heading home to hit up either wife for sex. And, that’s on a good day. On a bad day, the same thing happen but this time he gets caught on tape nearly beating a man to death and from there his life begins, it seems, to spiral out of control.
But, as I said, I do think that there is some form of emotional resonance to take away from the piece. Taking the script into consideration it seems like little more than a modicum (which is really not a flaw in the script which is impressive in its paucity of embellishment), so it's up to the actors and considering the way the three significant scenes are presented it's difficult to NOT feel as if they're tacked on to elicit the same response it does in me, but the very fact that they do feel so incidental make me think that Moverman really is uninterested in moving the audience - at least in the most clichéd of forms. It's the actors who keep digging deeper, even as the film itself keeps trying to (like its protagonist) push us further away. Brie Larson, so incredible this last year doing her career best work on the final season of United States of Tara plays Dave's older daughter who for the first half of the film seems set up to represent the typical angst-ridden teen you'd anticipate. So, a visit to her father for a heart-to-heart, at first, seems bizarre but Larson and Harrelson in that very scene - for all its scarcity in running time - set up the roots for the dysfunctional family relations which the film, oddly, doesn't exploit as much as you'd expect.