Rampart (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
17May/120

Rampart (2012)

It wasn't so long ago the internet was plastered with images of Tea Party rally's featuring a number of racist caricatures of Obama.  My most hated and least subtle one was of Obama wielding a spear, sporting a loincloth, and portrayed in such a way that Al Jolson's blackface routine in The Jazz Singer might seem tolerable to someone who is only kind of racist instead of hatefully so.  The signs were all there early on for a full-on, public display of hate.  Rampart, if nothing else, shows these people are a cancer who finally were able to stop hiding in code, and will eventually burn themselves out in the end.

Woody Harrelson makes the perfect personification of this cancer as the innocuously named Dave Brown.  He is a long-corrupt cop working at the beginning of the Rampart scandal in 1999.  It's clear he's a hateful bastard to other people, somehow still soft with his family even if he rubs his two daughters' hair a little too closely and is fond of calling them babe, and the ultimate expression of subtle police brutality.  He's a racist, through and through, infecting everyone around him until they realize he needs to be excised in whatever way possible.

The LAPD, also playing it's own sort of race card, is hoping to distract from the scandal by placing all the blame squarely on him for beating a black motorist after a car accident.  What is amazing, thanks to some smart plot positioning by director Oren Moverman and co-screenwriter James Ellroy, is the way the film still tries to empathize with his situation.  No matter the hatred he spews, no matter how coded, they still allow him to see himself as a man in love with his job and trying to get rid of a bunch of criminals.

That he only targets minorities is part of the point, this is Dirty Harry without winking at the fascism on display.

Not a frame goes by without feeling Ellroy's hand on the story.  This is the real LA, not the fantasy where everyone is connected like in Crash.  He cuts straight through any idolatry and gets straight to the point during an opening scene where Dave orders a female trainee to eat all the fries she ordered, mostly to pay for the daddy issues he decides to bring up just as roughly, shortly before haranguing some local Latino kids hanging outside of a convenience store.  There's no monster sheen, no mythology building around the man, just someone who was once protected and is slowly losing what sway he had over his guardians.

Nothing feels false, and that's part of what's so scary about the movie.  Dave speaks in coded racial talk, speaking about the always present "them" who are out to get hims and string him up as a pariah.  Nevertheless he gives a pass on criminality to one of his informants, a pathetic white dealer played by the consistently amazing Ben Foster (who has turned into a Richard Jenkins-type of solid supporting player).  The way Rampart lays all of the truths out on the table, the way we allowed things to become so racist, is to show it like it is, and that the racism in this country is systemic and never that well concealed to begin with.

This is Moverman's second film with Harrelson, and the two make a dynamite team.  Moverman does not push for any of the strong dramatic beats, and when Dave finally breaks down in the end Harrelson senses, correctly, that it's not out of some moral epiphany so much as it's a man beaten down by alcohol and violence for so long he just doesn't want to hide what he is anymore.  It's hypnotic watching him convince himself with a quick smile after a hateful glare that he's still doing the right thing.

Previously, the two collaborated on The Messenger, another film devoid of any kind of obvious dramatic breakthroughs, about a pair of army vets who have to tell the families of dead soldiers how their loved ones died.  Moverman is making the most potent examinations of our modern military and peace-keeping culture.  With The Messenger he saw through to the nearly insurmountable pain of the modern soldier, now he points that directly at the systemic racism of our peace keeping officers.

Rampart is the kind of film that gets overlooked precisely because it looks and feels too real for this time and place.  When the subject of that reality is an officer ok with seducing a black woman in the dark, but can't stand to look at her in the light, and justifies his racism through the law, it's a bitter pill to take.  It shouldn't be, and Rampart cuts through that pain in every disgusting second.

You know people like Dave, and that's the horrible truth of Rampart.

Rampart (2011)
Directed by Oren Moverman.
Screenplay by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman.
Starring Woody Harrelson.

Posted by Andrew

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