At the heart of Oren Moverman s Rampart is a riveting parable about what happens to a man who refuses to change, even when change is the only thing that can save him. That man is Dave Brown, played by two-time Academy Award® nominee Woody Harrelson. Though the film is set in the 1990s, when scandal rocked the LAPD s Rampart division, the film hones in on a single fictional cop: Dave Brown, a man who has taken the no guts, no glory American mythos to heart, without questioning what it is doing to him and those he holds dear. He is a cop whose personal life is propelled into a dizzying downward spiral when he comes under suspicion for roughing up a suspect. More than just a police officer who plays things fast and loose, Brown exposes the inner workings of a certain type of personality everyone recognizes around them, a personality very much part of American culture, yet not often examined. He is the kind of man inexorably drawn to authority and power, yet seems destined to abuse it; a man who has dreams of being a great masculine hero, yet is beholden to women; who has undeniable charm, yet whose stubborn refusal to take responsibility for his actions becomes a destructive force against family, community and ultimately himself.
4 STARS!! Woody Harrelson is leaner in Rampart, the skin tight over the skull, the jawline defiant. His eyes are busy. He is a cop in the Los Angeles police district that became notorious in 1999 as a cesspool of corruption, but this man takes corruption with him wherever he goes. The movie is co-written by the unsurpassed crime writer James Ellroy, who no doubt knows enough stories about Rampart to write a dozen movies, but his inspiration here is to make this cop a stand-alone character study, isolated within himself. He doesn't require the reprehensible environment of Rampart. He's self-fueled. Harrelson is an ideal actor for the role. Especially in tensely wound-up movies like this, he implies that he's looking at everything and then watching himself looking. His character, Dave Brown, has no moral center, but he has the survival instincts of a rat, and I say that with all due respect for rats. He always likes to know the way out of a tight corner. He knows an angle he can play or a squirm he can call on. Why is he this way? That question helps explain why the movie is so absorbing, because there is no answer. Rampart lacks the usual plot engines behind crime films, in which motivation comes from money, lust or revenge. Brown behaves in this film primarily just to do bad things. He reminds me of one of the most evil characters in American fiction, Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, a man who likes to torture and kill for no other reason than simply to cause pain. The Harrelson of Rampart could play Judge Holden, and not many actors could. He is an overt racist. He has such contempt for women he cannot always be bothered to use them sexually. He was married to two women (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) who are sisters, and apparently this meant so little to all of them that they live in houses next to one another. There was no emotional commitment there for them to engage. He has a daughter by each and is said to have once murdered a rapist because of his feelings for his daughters. Only with a man like Brown would you suspect that was an excuse; more likely, he got started killing the man and didn't feel like stopping. It's that feeling that seems to empower Brown when he does the last thing Rampart district needs in 1999. Eight years after the brutality against Rodney King, Brown is videotaped while beating a suspect. He seems to approach this task like a skilled workman performing a job he loves. Recently there's been a movement to make videotaping of police officers illegal. That would get Dave Brown's vote. This time he doesn't seem to have an escape route ready. The district attorney's office sees him as an ideal target, and Sigourney Weaver is finely focused as an assistant DA who has him in her sights. He also makes the error of trying to pick up a defense attorney (Robin Wright) in just the wrong way at just the wrong time. And he casually insults a black investigator for Internal Affairs (Ice Cube). Rampart is deeply embedded in Los Angeles in the summertime, every day a reminder of the desert that waits patiently to take back the land stolen from it by sprinkler systems. It is hot, the sun is blinding, Brown is sweating, he feels rotten. You cannot live forever with amorality and sadism eating away at you. Even other immoral people around you stand back, because they recognize themselves and fear to go that far. Rampart was directed and co-written with Ellroy by Oren Moverman, whose directorial debut was The Messenger(2009). It also starred Woody Harrelson, In that film, Harrelson's character turns out to have feelings after all. He's such a versatile actor, able to point one way and act in another. Maybe that's why he's so fascinating in Rampart. --Roger Ebert, Sun Times
Time's TOP 10 Movie Performances of 2011. #3 Woody Harrelson in Rampart. For eight years the blithely innocent bartender on Cheers, Woody Harrelson has matured into an actor of wide, weird range. As a media-savvy psycho in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, a porn king fighting for the First Amendment in The People vs. Larry Flynt, a Twinkies-addicted survivor in Zombieland and a bounty hunter in No Country for Old Men, Harrelson put a swagger in every scene, carving out a stark and engaging character: the wild American cowboy riding into the present on a stallion of lunatic machismo. His career topper may be playing Dave Date Rape Brown, an LAPD detective in director Oren Moverman's dark adaptation of a James Ellroy story. A dinosaur among the city's younger men and women in blue, Dave uses brutal methods to enforce the law; now he's under an investigation for beating a motorist, but he won't go down without a fatal fight. Harrelson, who's as worth watching at rest as when he detonates in calculated rage, pours such power into his character that viewers find themselves rooting for Dave even as they move to shield themselves from the imminent immolation. They become Dave's partners in crime, and Harrelson's willing, eager pawns. --Time Magazine