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REVIEW – Rampart (2011)

February 17, 2012

FilmJuice have my review of Oren Moverman’s Rampart.

Written by the crime novelist James Ellrot and set against a backdrop of police corruption and political wrangling, Rampart tells the story of a cop on the wrong side of history. Played by Woody Harrelson, Dave “Date Rape” Brown knows all the angles and all the dirty secrets meaning that even when he fucks up and gets caught, the brass can’t touch him. All Brown needs to do is claim to have received a job offer from Fox News and his problems simply melt away. However, as the film progresses and the political climate shifts further and further from yesterday’s old pals and backroom deals, Brown finds himself struggling to keep his head above water:

The idea that there is no place for a person like Dave in a civilised society provides Rampart with much of its thematic power. Dave, we are told, is the son of an old school cop and his status as the son of an old school cop gives him access to a network of contacts embodied by the nameless retired detective played by Ned Beattie. At the beginning of the film, Dave has a place in the LAPD because the department is still in thrall to the old and brutal ways of doing business. Most of Dave’s problems stem from the fact that he simply cannot adapt to the new LAPD being built by ambitious politicians like those played by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi. Thus Dave’s fall from grace is not just about his own stupidity but also about power leaching away from the brutal white men who police the city.

Though Rampart‘s wonderful cinematography, engaging characterisation and some hugely entertaining and recognisably Ellrovian dialogue are more than enough to make for an entertaining film, one cannot help but feel that there is something increasingly generic about the existential art house crime film. Back in 1967, John Boorman’s Point Blank used the tools of the art house to delve into the police house and since then a steady stream of art house directors including Abel Ferrara, Werner Herzog and Nicolas Winding Refn have happily used brilliant cinematography to tell and re-tell the same stories of crime, madness and existential alienation. Indeed, Rampart‘s real problem is that it is ultimately nothing more than a well realised genre film. Great cinematography? Check! Enigmatic protagonist? Check! Long drawn out pauses? Check? Descent into madness? Check! Ambiguous ending? Check! Though entertaining, the art house crime film really has lost its power to shock or provoke… in its own way it is just as predictable and safe as the country house mysteries of yesteryear.

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