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Woody Harrelson’s Oscar?

Written by: FFT Webmaster | November 30th, 2011

Woody Harrelson in RAMPART

Buzz has been building since the Toronto International Film Festival about Woody Harrelson’s take-no-prisoners performance as a corrupt cop in 1990s Los Angeles in the new policier RAMPART. The film reunites the actor with director Oren Moverman, who directed Harrelson to an Oscar nomination in THE MESSENGER. For this film, Moverman collaborated on the script with crime fiction specialist James Ellroy to deliver a powerful drama of one “bad cop” and his eventual personal and professional meltdown. Woody Harrelson is at the peak of his powers as a cynical, trigger-happy officer oblivious to the fresh winds of change and accountability sweeping through his embattled department. To the credit of its director and co-writers, the film is drenched in atmosphere and packs a verbal punch from start to finish. This is not easygoing filmmaking but is fierce, ugly but impossible to turn away from.

The time: 1999. The place: Los Angeles. Officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is a rough-justice type whose 24 years on the force have taught him the necessity of bending the rules to attain his ends.  He maintains combative relationships with his fellow officers, a master at the racist and chauvinist put-down. His relationship with his ex-wives is also fraught with callousness (as displayed by the downtrodden acting styles of Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon). When he lets loose on a suspect, who he beats mercilessly, it is caught on videotape and rapidly makes the rounds of the news magazines and television shows, stirring up a Rodney King-like embarrassment that the LAPD does not need. An ambitious, tough-as-nails district attorney, played by Sigourney Weaver, tries to get the errant cop to retire, while he jousts with a foxy defense lawyer played by Robin Wright.

With the noose tightening around his neck, the behavior of the rogue cop becomes more and more outrageous and more evidently self-destructive. As he memorably quips in one tense scene “I am not a racist… general, I hate all people”. The feeling would seem to be mutual, as everyone eventually turns on him in the film’s second half. The film, Moverman’s sophomore effort after his debut with THE MESSENGER, has a searching quality and despite its tough stance, an emotional heart, brought to light in a few choice scenes by actor Ben Foster (who starred opposite Harrelson in THE MESSENGER), playing a homeless drifter who threatens to tell what he knows. It all turns very ugly but Harrelson’s fierce depiction of a man with little moral code is fascinating to watch…..almost a guilty pleasure. The film’s intensity is enhanced by the raw, handheld cinematography by Bobby Bukowski. Los Angeles has never looked as dark, grimy and menacing as it does in this film. It may not be the sun-dappled picture of Los Angeles that we’ve seen in hundreds of films, but this is a story that reeks of atmosphere and objective truth.


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