Summer Viewing Series – Rampart

With the little extra time I have this summer I have decided I want to watch some things that I may have missed or not gotten the chance to see when I would have liked to. Thanks to Netflix and Redbox there are plenty of options for nightly viewing and so I have assembled a few choices to enjoy and review on my blog so that I havesomething to talk about other than vague references to the progress of my latest novel. In an attempt to maintain a theme I’m hoping that most of these will have some sort of literary connection, whether they be adaptations or works somehow related to prominent literary authors. This might not always be the case, but I figure it helps justify the series’ place on this blog.

My first pick for the series is the Woody Harrelson cop drama Rampart. I was looking forward to seeing this one, as it didn’t hit theaters anywhere near me and the fact that it was written by L.A. cop drama master James Ellroy and helmed by The Messenger‘s Oren Moverman. This had the potential to be a definitive look at the post Rodney King pre-9/11 LAPD era and unfortunately it really isn’t that sort of film at all. This is a total character piece. Woody Harrelson isn’t playing the typical dirty cop that these sort of films normally portray. He’s a wounded animal going through the motions and living his life according to his own set of values. He sees himself as a superior being, as evidenced by his ability to pontificate on any manner of subjects and come out making everyone else look foolish for underestimating him. He never passed the bar exam but he retained the knowledge that he was able to take away from studying and that makes him dangerous. More dangerous than the fact that he’s essentially a violent sociopath. There is a disconnect between the world that his officer Doug Brown sees and the world as it truly exists. This is a man who married the sister of his previous wife and had daughters with the both of them. Not only that, but he wants to keep them all together as a family and doesn’t see why that little plan isn’t going to work.

The crux of the story is that officer Brown is caught on tape beating a black suspect and immediately reignites flames of racial tension between the police and the public that had been growing and festering in the wake of the Rodney King incident as well as the recently fermenting Rampart scandal which would eventually lead to a restructuring of the LAPD that has been well documented and dissected in its own right. But that controversy isn’t the main drive of the film. The main drive of the film is how Brown lets this affect him personally and how it affects his family, or, more specifically, how he tries to not let it affect his family. This isn’t a cop drama. This is a human drama. It’s slow. It’s methodical. It’s a bit erratic. It is all of these things and yet it is not a great film. Aside from being a wonderful actor’s showcase, the film falls short because it refuses to let us inside. There is nothing on screen for us to hang on to. Identifying with Harrelson’s character is out of the question, as he is a smug misanthrope who pushes away anyone who would offer him solace. The audience doesn’t know whether to root for him to overcome his obstacles or succumb to justice. The film’s problem is mostly that of intent. It’s not good enough for us to simply watch a man destroy himself for two hours. There has to be a resolution and unfortunately, this film gives us none. An open ending in something like No Country for Old Men works because it ties into the theme of the work, that sometimes bad things simply waltz into your life to cause a frenzy and exit quietly, leaving nothing but dark memories. With Rampart, we get a quiet lack of resolution and it falls flat. Because every bit of the narrative seems to indicate that everything will be resolved and then swerves us a full one hundred and eighty degrees. It’s jarring and while it can be done well in this particular instance it isn’t.

Essentially, this is a film that works well to showcase the acting talent of everyone involved but is not edited well and does nothing to leave a lasting impression other than how unimpressive it is in total. I hesitate to use the word “boring” but it certainly isn’t as engaging as it could have been and with the talent involved that is just a crying shame.



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