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Rampart review

Meet Woody the cowboy.

In the ’90s, the LAPD ’S Rampart division imploded due to widespread corruption. The word “rampart” itself brings to mind outdated defences – things that don’t bend but break. Perhaps the latter is more relevant to Oren Moverman’s ( The Messenger ) second film.

A James Ellroy ( LA Confidential ) script rewritten by the director, the film pushes the scandal to the background, focusing on (fictional) accused officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) at the expense of all else. This includes the fantastic female cast: Robin Wright as Brown’s lover, Sigourney Weaver as his angry boss, plus Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon as his even angrier ex-wives.

Like Lt Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now in civvies, “Date-Rape” Dave (the name comes from a Vice Squad “incident”) is a colossal character – dissolute and unyielding, a lit cigarette forever gripped in his teeth like the poisonous certainties he clings to.

Harrelson is phenomenal: gaunt, wirehaired, without vanity as Brown’s legal and moral trespasses slowly crucify him.

The problem is that we learn little more about Brown than he does. The incredible ensemble (also including Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube and Ben Foster) are just helpless walk-ons, and Moverman’s twitchy camerawork is a mixed blessing.

Sometimes it’s like watching the most extreme episode of COPS ever filmed. At others, it’s distracting – there are only so many two-shots where one character’s hair obscures the other’s face that you can handle.

It’s a brave move in a brave movie – but watching a man banging his head against a wall for 108 minutes is, by necessity, a frustrating experience.

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Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.