Officer David Douglas Brown (Woody Harrelson) is an old school kind of cop with almost as many disciplinary actions on his record as arrests. A thug with a badge, Brown seems to take pride in abusing his power and his claim to fame is a murder that he may or may not have committed in a fit of vigilante rage. His personal life is perhaps even more troublesome than his professional one, as he lives in a sort of commune with his two daughters and their respective mothers who happen to be sisters. All in all, Brown is a miserable human being whose one saving grace is his youngest daughter, Margaret (Sammy Boyarsky), who still sees a bit of good in her old man. Already on the radar of his commanding officer, Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver), Brown draws even more attention when an onlooker videotapes him beating a drunk driver who crashed into his patrol car. Needing aid in his attempt to stay on the force, Brown turns to an old friend (Ned Beatty) who ends up dragging him further into his personal darkness.
Director Oren Moverman’s last film, The Messenger, is a tense, depressing film that also happens to be extremely well put together and features compelling characters in harsh situations. It is a film that I’m glad I saw but I never want to watch again. Rampart is also tense and depressing but fails to live up to the back half of the equation. At the outset, I was willing to invest in the movie because Brown is set up as a complex character with more to him than you might expect. Somewhere in there is a hint of a decent human being and this was enough to pique my interest. Before long, however, it becomes apparent that whatever shred of humanity there was in Brown at one time has been gone for quite some time and he is, in fact, one of the more unlikeable, terrible people you’re ever likely to come across. And at this point, my interest in the film died.
Now, I don’t have to have the stereotypical redemption story to keep me invested in a film that centers on a retched lead character. A sufficient amount of hate for a character can be just as engrossing as love for a great character. But Rampartdoesn’t really illicit hate from the audience directed at Brown; in fact, it doesn’t illicit any emotion at all. Much like a documentarian, Moverman basically lets the camera follow Brown through his day-to-day, miserable existence and while I’ve seen this technique work before, here it just seems to be slogging through the muddy waters of apathy, as if Moverman himself couldn’t muster up any interest to develop his story. I simply could not care less about anything about the events of Rampartnor the characters therein. Eventually I checked out and if I’m being completely honest, there was at least one plot point that I couldn’t understand but didn’t care enough about to go back to fill in the blanks.
That’s a shame because the one area in which Rampart succeeds is in the performances of its actors, particularly that of American Treasure Woody Harrelson. I’m not sure there’s a better actor in the business who excels at playing both exceedingly likeable characters and characters that you desperately want to see punch in the face. This is yet another strong portrayal that is hamstrung by the film’s failure to grab hold of the audience in virtually any way. Rampart is a wasted and worthless venture that simply doesn’t give the viewer a reason to stay involved.