At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Rampart “2011”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Drama/Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ruben Garfias, Steve Buscemi, Brie Larson, Don Creech, Jon Bernthal, Jon Foster, Robert Wisdom, Audra McDonald/Runtime: 108 minutes

Well how about that? Just when it looked like the twisted law enforcement officer subgenre of movie magic had officially run out of avenues to go down and narratives to regale me with here comes one to freshen up this iconic group of films that deal with cops who are always operating on the fringes of their job description whilst also facing a complete and utter meltdown of both their professional and personal lives. Indeed for the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2011’s Rampart, film helmer Oren Moverman is able to bring together a top-notch group of performers in order to aid him in the development of a riveting narration about a guy molded by hostility, violence, no morals whatsoever, and deeply buried anxieties/insecurities, but who hides them through a tough as nails exterior and a mind that is actually quite brilliant. Suffice it to say that for our main character in this film, it has been awhile if ever since he came face to face with morals, decency, or even a shred of integrity. Not only that, but the society he once put his heart into keeping safe has eroded him quite a bit and as a result all that’s left is a husk of a guy who only cares about making it just one more day and making himself happy whilst still being permitted to do the one thing in this world that he truly feels he was put on this Earth to do. Suffice it to say then that Rampart, more than anything, is a tragic narrative about how going into something with the best of intentions has resulted in a man and everything he cares about in this world slowly being eaten away until all that remains is nothing less than the basic components of survival due to the man being eroded and chipped away much in the same vein as a rock that a steady stream has washed over and overwhelmed time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Rampart takes us back in time to the year 1999 and to the locale of Los Angeles where we see that the most notorious unit in the LAPD known as the Rampart division is facing a new and troublesome dilemma in the form of an officer by the name of David Brown. Mr. Brown, we are able to learn, is a veteran who served his country in Vietnam, but is also a cop who unfortunately was passed over when morals were being handed out and who has a unique manner of engaging in his duties as a cop. It’s also worth pointing out that Brown has also been divorced twice with the extra icky caveat that his ex-wives are also sisters. Yet be it in his professional or personal life, Brown is mostly known for how he killed a supposed date rapist awhile before our story starts proper. However, even with that skeleton in his closet, we see that in life Brown is his own person through and through. Indeed he doesn’t like anyone who is not him, he has a passion for female companionship, and he adores any illegal substances he can get his hands on. Suffice it to say that this is a man who loves using the power of the badge that was given to him to practically get away with as much debauchery as he can. Yet when our “hero” is nabbed on camera in the process of giving a driver who slammed into his police cruiser and then tried to run away a serious beat down, he swiftly sees himself becoming a bigger pain in the behind than his already on shaky ground division knows what to do with it. Yet rather than just bow out gracefully and accept retirement, our “hero” instead decides to go further down the spiral he’s already on all whilst feeling a more immersive conspiracy is at foot to remove him from the force that have nothing to do with clean-up on the part of the department. Suffice it to say that with both his career and life as he knows it on the line, we see that this man is willing to do just about anything to keep his head above water even if that anything could prove to be horrible for both himself and anyone who comes in contact with him both at home and on the streets.

Now right off the bat I should note that rancor-filled, unscrupulous, egotistical law enforcement officers are characters that have been around for quite a while if not since the very beginning it feels like in the long history of movie magic. Having said that, Rampart is distinct in that this is a narrative that deals with a cop who is so exasperated by what he has seen and witnessed and impossible to redeem that he really does manage to contribute to this subgenre of movie magic a new component that it can operate with in future films. At the same time though, it does raise an intriguing question: does this film perhaps go so dark and so miserable that it manages to put a stranglehold on any pluses that this slice of cinematic pie also has going for it? Well put it this way: this movie does most assuredly come way too close for comfort in not only being too ruthless especially in regards to how dark of a person physically, psychologically, and even spiritually our main character is. Indeed he has managed to transform into such a destructive blend of rancor, merciless integrity, unscrupulous, and external lack of empathy that this man is easily one of the hardest to really care about main characters I have seen this side of Adam Sandler in 2019’s Uncut Gems. Yet at the same time, also much like Sandler, you do find yourself intriguingly admiring the guy to some respect. However, even though there is something remotely respectable about being ruthlessly honest and staying steadfast to a code of sorts, where this guy ultimately goes wrong is in how he blends together what he believes with what he does. Indeed it doesn’t matter if he is in the right or not in regards to his world view, this guy simply conducts himself in a way that the world around him just cannot and will not condone. I mean this is a guy who, with how well-versed he is in the law, could have been one of its best and brightest, but instead tosses it all on the proverbial bonfire in order to keep doing things the way he wants to do them. Yes those who chose to do things differently than everyone else has at times resulted in positives for humanity, but if this slice of cinematic pie shows us anything it’s that this guy is one that contributes nothing in the way of positivity and instead just chooses to sink further and further into the primordial ooze that exists on the fringe edges of the world in which he operates.

Now in regards to the performances in this they are all wonderful, but the performance that easily stands out above all the others is the lead role by Woody Harrelson who does a terrific job at as soon as the movie starts sinking headfirst into this character and not deviating from that character for one single second. Indeed his work in this is a terrific example of the power a performance can have as shown by the previously mentioned immersion into a life that is completely chaotic and yet also is showcased by distinct revolutionary thought patterns even as he doesn’t think about half the stuff he does from a physical point of view whilst his soul also feels like it has completely and utterly been left at the wayside. Indeed Brown’s only limits are just merely how badly corruption can infect every aspect of his life to the point that he goes up against the system only because to work from within said system is the only thing he knows and if you were to take that from him then he would pretty much be kaput. Put another way: this man is the kind of addict whose vice is not one that you can find in a pipe or a bottle, but rather from the badge on his chest and he is so hooked that he cannot live life without either it or doing things his way and only his way. Suffice it to say that whilst the work in this slice of cinematic pie done by Harrelson is more phenomenal than even the group of top-notch talent who all, by and large, don’t have nearly as much screen time as you might think in this there is one performer who actually does pretty solid work in this that I feel is worth mentioning. That being Ice Cube who is usually an incredible screen presence no matter what he shows up in (Are We Done Yet not included) and who is fairly riveting as an investigator from the D.A.’s office who is eventually sent out to try and reign our “hero” in. Suffice it to say it might take a while for him to show up in this and he only has maybe 20-25 minutes of screen time tops, but Cube makes for quite the intriguing foil to Harrelson every time they share the screen together. As for the rest of this truly talented cast, they may only pop up here and there, but they still deliver top-quality work to the point that this slice of cinematic pie really has quite an incredible roster of talent working wonders in front of the camera. Meanwhile we see that behind the camera, film helmer Oren Moverman and this slice of cinematic pie’s cinematographer Bobby Bukowski do a wonderful job of keeping the camera engaged in what’s going on beyond just shooting whatever is occurring to the point that the camera is able to uncover some novel points of view that help ensure this film is able to be both distinct and flow fairly well even though the cast of characters and the narrative by themselves are able to ensure this slice of cinematic pie is able to keep a steady tempo even when things go to a snail’s pace. Yet even though a few moments near the end of this film become a lot more scrambled than they should have been, but by and large Rampart does an impressive enough job from a visual and performance perspective respectively that these elements to this film simply prove to be positive assets to a film that, by and large, is quite riveting as is.

All in all I think it’s safe to say that at the end of the day Rampart is not by any stretch going to be looked back on as an iconic entry in the law enforcement subgenre of magic. Put another way: this most assuredly is NOT in the same vein as something like Training Day though that would make for an intriguing movie to pair with this one in a double feature. Be that as it may be, this slice of cinematic pie from film helmer Oren Moverman is one that does manage to craft for us an intriguing glimpse at a law enforcement officer who is as far removed from normal as normal gets, is way past redeeming in any significant way, and lives not to make the world around him a better place, but simply just to see another day. To that end, this film chooses to immerse itself fairly deeply into this life that is just barely functioning yet still protected to some degree due to the clothes on his back. However even as he continues to push the envelope further and further we see that this man must try and do everything in his power to keep a hold on his life since as pitiful as it may be this is all he really knows. Suffice it to say that Rampart truly is an intriguing narrative to say nothing of being wonderfully scribed, talentedly helmed, and potently performed and one that fans of this distinct subgenre should definitely try to hunt down and give at the very least a view. On a scale of 1-5 I give Rampart “2011” a solid 3.5 out of 5.