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Monday, 7 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Rampart

Directed by: Oren Moverman

Produced by: Michael DeFranco
Ben Foster
Lawrence Inglee
Ken Kao
Clark Peterson

Screenplay by: James Ellory
Oren Moverman

Starring: Woody Harrelson
Ned Beatty
Ben Foster
Anne Heche
Ice Cube
Cynthia Nixon
Sigourney Weaver
Robin Wright
Steve Buscemi

Music by: Dickon Hinchliffe

Cinematography by: Bobby Bukowski

Editing by: Jay Rabinowitz

Studio: Amalgam Features

Distributed by: Millennium Entertainment

Release date(s): September 10, 2011 (TIFF)
February 10, 2012 (United States)
February 24, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: (Not Available)

Box office revenue: $972, 512 (Domestic gross only)

Alright, folks, me again (as usual, unless some parasitic creature has taken possession of my body!), at the risk of sounding corny, I hope you all enjoyed the Christmas holidays and New Year: now let us never speak of them again! Don't get me wrong, I may sound like a grouch or grinch, depending on what way you want to look at, but I just find it a bit of falsity for people to be nice to each other, be incredibly materialistic, buy presents, and get their yearly influx of Christianity at Mass to keep up appearances. We don't need a designated period in which we are obliged to be nice to one another, I keep that up all year round by being a brutally honest S.O.B. who has enough self-respect to tell someone to their face whether or not I think you're full of BS. So, for more rants that more or less serve the purposes of being both cathartic and an excuse to get me going, and the occasional film review, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie (and most likely tomorrow's, given I've just found out I have a week to bang out two essays I haven't started! I know where they're going!) is Rampart. A collaboration between director Oren Moverman and writer James Ellroy, most famous for his L.A. Quartet, one of which became Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential, Rampart stars Woody Harrelson (who previously worked with Moverman on The Messenger) as Officer Dave Brown. With two ex-wives who are sisters and daughters by each of them, Dave's conflict in his home life crosses over into his work life, when he is caught on tape nearly beating someone to death, and his superiors' embarrassment over the debacle sees him face either sanctions or forced retirement. So, what we have is corrupt cop at the crossroads of life. Tell me you haven't heard this one before, have you? While I had this in mind (especially given that Ellroy co-wrote the post-Training Day but highly-underrated Dark Blue, starring Kurt Russell), Woody Harrelson is one of my favourite working actors and I figured that with his presence, something new could be brought to the plate.

To start with the good here, Rampart is completely propped up by an intelligent, brave and muscular performance by Woody Harrelson. I know, I like him anyway, but this is a different approach towards the character than you might expect. Showing another side to his acting palette, he plays this part with sublime restraint, even during the scenes in which he displays violence. This restraint is as such that you are always wary of the fact that his withdrawing from emotive histrionics while his world crumbles is hiding a disorder deep within his psyche. Also, despite his being a morally bankrupt and corrupt cop, Harrelson ensures that Dave Brown is never an unsympathetic and indeed a likeable character. I can't emphasise enough just how important Harrelson is to the success of this movie, and Dave Brown is one of the finest additions to his body of work. Overall, this is a fine ensemble of actors, and while each of them serves merely as a representative of a side of Dave Brown that we are deprived of, operating in the same way that the character's do for the title character in Citizen Kane, they do their parts well. Though Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright and Sigourney Weaver are all good, it's Ned Beatty who steals the show in the supporting category. The veteran actor brings the weight and gravitas necessary to the part of Hartshorn, and his scenes alongside Harrelson are the best in the film, both moving and amusing, often at the same time. Also, Rampart is a technically astute film, even though it's clearly operating on a tight budget. Bobby Bukowski and Jay Rabinowitz do a terrific job in their respective jobs as cinematographer and editor, as such that their work manages to elevate each others, and it helps create some of the most memorable images I've seen in a film this year.

So, yes, I liked Rampart. Would I watch it again? Yes to that one as well. However, with these good things having been said, I must say a couple of bad things, for there are some gaping wounds in the tapestry of this film. First and foremost, it suffers from a terribly contrived script. Granted, the characters are well-written, but they slot as interesting pieces in a primarily uniform puzzle. With regards to the plot, even the mighty Woody Harrelson can't save you from the impression that we are entering same-old territory. Maybe I've seen too many movies, but I could honestly fill an A4 page with films that do the same thing as Rampart. The story does not bring me anywhere I haven't been before, and frankly that is not good enough! Also, I could predict much of what proceeds to occur in the plot long before it had happened. I'm not going to bark up the Training Day tree, but I've seen it done better by David Ayer with his directorial debut Harsh Times, and seen it done best with this film's screenwriter James Ellory and Ayer's script for the Ron Shelton film Dark Blue. I'm sorry, I know films stand up on their own two feet before the jury of one, namely me, but this retreads much of the same territory, and Dark Blue firmly puts Rampart in the shade. Also, I do think that it is a film of misguidance and misdirection. Oren Moverman has all these elements, some good, some bad, but doesn't seem to know what to do with any of them. As such, while I am once again (reiterating, or what?) trying to focus on Woody Harrelson, there is this sloppy undercurrent that needs to be controlled and frankly is just being let to run loose.

Rampart is an occasionally messy film. The script is terribly contrived, cliched and is going nowhere that we (as in me, but maybe you too!) haven't been to be before, and Oren Moverman has various elements to direct, and doesn't seem to know what way to direct any of them. That being said, I did like Rampart. It's a technically sound film with regards to the cinematography and editing, and there is some interesting stuff, particularly with Ned Beatty, with regards to the characters that the ensemble cast plays. However, it is indisputable that the Altas bearing the celestial sphere upon his shoulders is Woody Harrelson. Delivering a muscular performance, showing another side to his skills with great restraint that manages to portray this horrible person's disintegration with poignancy and humanity. Although it's a shame it wasn't in a better movie, Harrelson's Dave Brown sticks with you, and it's not just one of the finest performances in Harrelson's career, but one of the best of 2012.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Busy little bee (I'm doing this as a 'break' in between two essays)

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