Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rampart (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 


"Rampart" is the new film by Oren Moverman (The Messenger) and it is co-written by current noir maestro James Ellroy. It is an amoral and fatalistic little tale about a very, very bad cop with an anger problem to say the least. Woody Harrelson plays cop Dave "Date-rape" Brown perfectly. He is part Yul Brynner from "Westworld" and part Robert Duvall. Harrelson  references Colonel Kilgore more than once in his swaggering, rooster-like stance but there is also something of the alien insect about him. If there was ever a human creature that could double as an albino iguana, Dave would be it.

The film is meticulously crafted and  rigorously deadpan in tone. The film is not as surprising as it could have been, in part because it echoes other gritty cop dramas, namely "Training Day" (2001) and "Colors" (1988). Those films, although harsh, contained a  silver sliver of a moral center on the police uniform. The cops or at least some of them knew what was wrong. In "Rampart" we are not so sure. This film is more detached than its dirty, dog eat dog predecessors, its standoffish tone is as gray as Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin". And, like the father in "Kevin", most of the administration enable Dave's execrable behavior. The force is ineffectual and his family tolerates him. He plainly sees killing on duty as a matter of course, an inevitable act like brushing off crumbs. We don't know what drives Dave. Is he pissed off, sociopathic, or just a bad egghead? We are not given any clues. And perhaps as a character study, it does not matter. We are confronted by this cop as is, without warning. His appearance onscreen is abrupt and jarring. One look at those blue-reflector sunglasses and you know its trouble. 

As the film goes on, you might want Dave to snap out of himself and to become a better person, to realize the mania of his ways. In one scene he lies at the bottom of a pool. His arms are outstretched and he looks like a diseased amphibian. Dave's elongated martyr pose seems to invite a release as if to say go ahead, kill me, I want to drown. But Dave treads water and gets more and more angry, seeming to take on everything negative---Lust, Murder, Racism and Sexism---as if he is a chemically corrosive white sponge. There seems no point to his regression or circumstance. Dave simply is.

The compelling thing about Harrelson's performance is that Dave gets so wrapped up in watching others, he zones out abruptly and seems to be watching himself. Dave is silently snakelike and spaced to the core. As a voyeuristic Ouroboros, there is no way to tell where Harrelson ends and Dave begins. This character is Rampart's sole  beacon making reason enough to stop and look.

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