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article imageOp-Ed: TIFF 2011 — Woody Harrelson shines as dirty cop in Rampart Special

By David Silverberg     Sep 15, 2011 in Entertainment
Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Rampart is compelling but somewhat unsatisfying as the story of how an LAPD police tries to clear his name after being caught applying his own brand of street justice.
Part Training Day, part Bad Lieutenant, the film plays on the dirty cop genre and gives it a more intimate spin. Instead of simply focusing on the ugly police force corruption, Rampart trains its lens on how a family disintegrates when a husband and father is accused of failing at his job.
Woody Harrelson plays Dave Brown, a police officer in L.A. during the 1990s caught in the middle of an investigation into the Rampart precinct accused of under-handed tactics. He's the kind of cop who thinks "illegal" is just a sick bird (get it? Ill eagle?). Brown begins to unravel when an accident (or was it?) places him in the crosshairs of both lawyers and journalists. His stubborn refusal to accept responsibility sounds all too familiar to anyone acquainted with LAPD controversies from Rodney King and beyond.
What's more intriguing is Brown's relationship with his family. It's already a strange situation - he's fathered children with two sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), and he intermittently lives with each of them. His oldest daughter visibly hates him and his youngest daughter is confused about the hoopla surrounding the Rampart investigation. It's all very frustrating for Brown and his anger's temperature rises with every scene.
Harrelson is the acting star here. Whether he's breaking down crying or talking tough with suspects, he shows fine range. It's as if he was born to play this role, which might seem familiar to some Woody fans: he played a hard-nosed cop in Battle in Seattle. Harrelson also looks comfortable in front of the camera in Rampart, perhaps, because he's reunited with director Oren Moverman, who enlisted the actor in The Messenger.
Also some excellent acting from Sigourney Weaver as a lawyer and Robin Wright as a potential love interest adds some nice softness to the film. Brie Larson as Dave's estranged daughter should be getting more roles with her breakout role in Rampart.
In the end, though, Rampart is a film deserving of a stronger ending. The corruption at Rampart never gets fully explored and all the court trial threats feel empty once the credits start to roll. Maybe there's a sequel in the works? But the controversy over the precinct's corruption charges are left scattered, as if Moverman wanted to focus more on Brown's mental anguish than anything else. Perhaps that's a smart choice, but a more ambitious director would have satisfied our curiosity piqued in the first few scenes.
Rampart shows off Harrelson's outstanding talent but it's more of a rental than a theatre movie. It simply needed a tighter ending in order to truly stand out amidst the many quality films debuting at TIFF.
For more reviews of films at TIFF, see here.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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