Ever get one of those days where you just want to phone in a film review? Just me? Okay, then...Woody Harrelson joins forces for the second time with the director of The Messenger, Oren Moverman, for a broody, psychological, expose on the inner workings of a L.A.P.D. police officer in the midst of the Rampart scandal during the late 1990s. The film's street cred is enhanced tenfold by the original screenplay from celebrated crime author and writer of the excellent L.A. Confidential, one Mr James Ellroy.
When writing any review, I always like to pop on IMDB and just remind myself of an actor's CV up to this point. Upon looking back on Woody Harrelson's career, I sometimes forget he's more than the sickeningly pleasant nice guy who made his name in Cheers before even my time. Actually, that's a silly thing to say because Cheers is merely a footnote in such a terrifyingly versatile actor's career. He's been intense and shocking in The Messenger and Natural Born Killers. He's been funny and silly in the likes of Kingpin and Zombieland as well as being a consistently genuine Hollywood presence in everything from Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line to The Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men.
His portrayal of Dave 'Date Rape' Brown in Rampart is as good as any role he's ever taken on. Possibly even the best of them all. He's gritty and brutal, darkly comedic and bizarrely articulate, downright despicable and amoral and also a bit of a family man who unconditionally loves his daughters. It's the stuff awards are won on - yes, yes not that it matters I know. Which is why it's a bit of an injustice to Harrelson that the rest of the film never really lived up to him.
That's not to say Rampart is awful, far from it. It contains some slick cinematography, terrific dialogue and an A-List supporting cast containing Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Ben Foster and the ever brilliant Ned Beatty. Its real shortcoming however was the meandering plot which didn't really go anywhere outside of Brown's inner demons and constant paranoia which continuously haunted him from the film's opening moments right through to its end, resulting in the makings of quite a forgettable film a few years down the line. Or perhaps a cult classic? Only time will tell on that...
At times it even, unintentionally, felt like it was some sick love child of Drive, Shame and (especially) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but never quite had the style of Drive, never as a mind bogglingly full frontal as Shame and not nearly as mental as Bad Lt.
Sadly in the end, Woody Harrelson's excellent leading performance just wasn't enough to lift Rampart into the same league as its like minded counterparts. The deeply disturbing, slightly tragic and immensely fascinating character study didn't detract from a film which continuously went round and round in circles, with little resolution, but not even much of a beginning either. Disappointing...
Rampart is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from Friday February 24th, 2012.