The Black Bird reviews Rampart (2011)
Unfortunately, this review is going to start off negative. Be forewarned! But it isn’t about the flick itself. Nope, the movie itself definitely held my attention.
I’m going to gripe about festival organization. Supposedly Killer Joe was booked out at the Sydney Film Fest, but I actually got my promo tickets promptly. Pleasantly surprised in that instance. Was told there’d be plenty of space in Rampart, so I showed up at the quaintly archaic State Theatre with about ten minutes to spare. I was keen to see the flick. I’m a James Ellroy nut, and he co-scripted. Got jerked/stuffed around for those ten minute spare minutes over my promo pass. Had to go back to the box office and wait for them to ring festival HQ and sort out my tickets, even though there were literally scores of seats still available. As a result, I missed the opening of the movie, including the credits. Usually, if I miss even a few minutes at the movies it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But Rampart was entertaining enough to allow me to see past that sore spot.
Woody Harrelson does a capable job as Dave Brown, a womanizing, viagra popping, booze binging LAPD officer. Brown is at the center of a salacious 1990s scandal. He has killed a past date rape suspect in the line of duty (or so he says), continues to use excessive force, then goes over the edge with outright murder in another flare-up.
The pathos of “Date Rape” Dave Brown’s family interaction plays a pivotal part in the flick. I see facets of “Date Rape” Dave in Ellroy’s past protagonist Lloyd Hopkins in the Demon Dog’s modern SoCal noir trilogy. It would seem that Ellroy is well accustomed to the innards of police brutality and corruption. The seedy, seamy and sordid elements litter his 1940s to ’50s L.A. Quartet, just as they ooze onto the big screen in Rampart.
Thankfully, Rampart focuses more on humanity than technological trappings of the current cinema. If there was any CGI nonsense, I missed it. Real stunt action and true to life familial dysfunction. Dysfunction? How is it dysfunction if it’s so widespread? Obviously Ellroy knows this and allows us to follow this belief through dialogue and character interaction. Date Rape Dave’s reaction to discovering that one of his teenage daughters is a rabid feminist with the hots for other chicks is dyed in the wool Ellroy. Our protagonist is so diametrically opposed to the situation and will never be able to comprehend the why of it. While “Date Rape” Dave and his extra-marital fling Helen (Brie Larson) are fairly complex characters, the others come off a bit on the flat side. If Date Rape is a chauvinist pig, Helen is the predatory arachnoid princess! Sigourney Weaver plays a D.A. investigator trying to rein in “Date Rape” Dave’s offensive physical brutality. He is all about kicking ass and asking questions later. For the brief time Weaver’s on screen, she’s a semi-strong female character. Ned Beatty, a leftover from Hollyweird of a bygone age, cameos as Date Rape’s LAPD alumni confidant and turncoat.
In truly tasteless noir fashion (or delicious, depending on your bent), Officer Brown is on a path of self-destruction. A gritty gross-out sequence involves “Date Rape” descending into madness on a night of meth-fueled sadomasochist clubbing. Some noise spikes are aptly placed to freak the audience near the finale. Perhaps the doof-doof of techno music fits the S&M dungeon, but it just doesn’t smack of the James Ellroy afficionados of noir nastiness and exploitation cinema have come to adore. One supposes the director had to make Rampart “commercially viable” in today’s marketplace. One gets the feeling that the modern touches are mostly courtesy of Ellroy’s collaborator, director Oren Moverman. Would it be possible for corporate Hollywood to leave anachronistic Ellroy to his own devices?! One has to wonder. I’d personally love to see it happen.
The verdict is in. Rampart held my attention, and was enjoyable, save for the cop-out closing. If the opening resolves this issue, maybe I can stand corrected. Otherwise, it’s just another day in “Date Rape” Dave’s El Lay dog-eat-dog delirium.
I’m open to appeals if the distributor wants to chuck the ole Black Bird a promo, ya know?