There have been so many stories of dirty cops produced in movies and television over the years that it's easy to write off 'Rampart' – a movie in which Woody Harrelson stars as a corrupt cop in L.A.'s most corrupt precinct – as just another cop-gone-bad movie. With 'Rampart' it isn't that simple.
Harrelson plays Officer Dave Brown, a wily and savvy veteran of the police force who isn't above using questionable methods to get what he wants. This isn't the typical officer-gone-rogue type of story you've seen time and again though. Brown earnestly believes that all of his actions are for the greater good. Somewhere deep down inside he's convinced himself that how he conducts himself in uniform is completely acceptable. When he's recorded on camera beating a black man after a traffic altercation he comes under fire as just another police bigot out to get minorities. Later in the movie he responds to the bigotry rumors to an internal affairs investigator – who just so happens to be black, "Bear in mind that I am not a racist. Fact is, I hate all people equally. And if it helps, I've slept with some of your people. You wanna be mad at someone, try J. Edgar Hoover. He was a racist. Or the Founding Fathers, all slave-owners."
This is what Brown does. He justifies his actions down to the smallest detail pushing all blame away from himself. It's actually extremely interesting to watch the way he contorts the truth in long-winded diatribes about his sense of right and wrong. I haven't had this much fun watching a corrupt cop since Nicolas Cage in 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.' Dave has taken the advice of George Castanza to heart, "It's not a lie if you believe it."
He's a lonely man. Even with a family and police force surrounding him, he stands alone. A solitary figure or obstinacy. At one point he declares, "I have enough friends," as if saying that he sees no seemingly significant reason to be cordial or professional to anyone else.
The movie is written by James Elroy ('L.A. Confidential') and sports the gritty toughness that he's become known for through his screenwriting and numerous novels. Brown may be a bastard, but he's also devoted to his family even if he shows it in the wrong way. Here's a man that has spent so much of his life justifying his wrong actions that he thinks the same tactics will work on his own family. The family dynamic of the Brown family is an odd one. Dave had two relationships with two sisters, both ending in a child – two daughters. Now Dave lives next door to the sisters and he regularly sees his daughters. Everyone has grown weary of his constant attempts to weasel his way out of taking responsibilities for his actions.
'Rampart' is a tough lesson in what overt narcissism can do to a person. There's honestly no real reason given of why Dave Brown acts the way he does. He simply does. He's a self-serving poisonous human being, but unlike so many of today's cinematic narcissists, Brown's life is an absorbing tale of destruction.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Rampart' is a Millennium Entertainment release. The movie has been pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. It comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase and is a Region A release. The film is also available in a Combo Pack.
The only other time I saw 'Rampart' was on a terribly encoded DVD screener of the movie that was sent to me during awards season last year. Suffice it to say that this 1080p transfer of the film is heads and shoulders above the presentation in every way.
Yes, Bobby Bukowski's cinematography is gritty. Even though it was filmed with HD cameras 'Rampart' still retains a look that is almost mirrors the gritty look of FX's 'The Shield.' Whites are purposefully overblown giving faces and objects a somewhat bleached look as the hot California sun beats down on them. Blacks are dark and coarse. Shadows create wonderfully delineated lines that accentuate features and textures. Close-ups reveal a wide variety of detail. Pores, facial hair, and even Ben Foster's terrible looking teeth are on full high-def display here.
In spite of being on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc I didn't notice any inherent encoding errors. The visuals are gritty, but they're technically sound.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is just as gritty, but just as well-rounded as the video presentation is. Here you'll get a very astute surround sound experience. Dialogue is always clear, even when Dave is whispering in dark corners to his "friend" that tries to help him out with his problems.
While the movie is extremely dialogue-driven, surrounds play a huge role. The surround action of L.A.'s busy neighborhoods is caught and presented with crystal clear precision. Cars honk and speed by; sirens blare; the car wreck that Dave is involved in is quick and violent with crunching metal causing brute audio force. LFE gets in on the action when Brown goes out late one night, high on drugs, visiting clubs and bars with thumping music.
For a talky movie, 'Rampart' has actually been given quite a dynamic high-def audio experience. I was surprised just how immersive it was.
'Rampart' distinguishes itself from the pack because of a transcendent performance from Woody Harrelson. The man can act, and act he does. 'Rampart' understands that there are other corrupt cop movies out there and, like Dave Brown, it just doesn't care. It feels more personal, more human, as opposed to the blatantly Hollywoodized 'Training Day.' Harrelson is a master of his craft, and he shows what he can do with a genre that some would say is tired and mundane (before they've seen this!). Recommended.