Rampart is a showcase for Harrelson, plain and simple. He plays ‘date rape’ Dave; a corrupt police officer and all round scumbag. The film is a portrayal of Dave’s downward spiral. One minute he’s on top of the world, lashing out at people in whichever way he fancies, until the moment he’s caught on video abusing someone, and he becomes the, equally corrupt, police force’s new scapegoat. The film is about how he copes once he actually has to face and answer for his vile behaviour which spans everything from sexism and homophobia to racism and murder.
Harrelson creates someone deeply ambiguous from something completely awful. Dave is an unabashedly hateful person, the likes of which don’t appear on screen all that often. There’s nothing cartoonish about him at all and in his realness, he’s terrifying. But the problem isn’t with Dave so much as it is with the entire LAPD system and the film sends this message without letting him off the hook, though he’s as much a victim of the system as he is responsible for his own actions. Rampart is an interesting look into a moral compass that doesn’t align with mainstream/PC values, but believes that it’s in the right nonetheless. There’s an argument to be made for Dave’s intentions; that he never meant to hurt anyone and the self-loathing that Harrelson conveys completely sells this point, making you unsure of where you stand when it comes to judging him. From afar, he’s a completely awful person, no doubt about it, but it’s not so black and white up close.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Rampart may portray a corrupt police officer, but the story is actually a lot more universal than that may suggest. The pain of living in a world which has seemingly moved on without you, finding yourself with no one to lean on, feeling trapped and surrendering to self loathing are all things that the average person has experienced at one point or the other – maybe just not to this extreme. Dave’s an ugly character but Harrelson brings him to life beautifully.