As one character states boldly to his face, “You’re a classic racist. A bigot. A sexist. A womanizer. A chauvinist. A misanthrope. Homophobic, clearly, or maybe you just don’t like yourself.”

Mind you, this is just from his daughter, so imagine what those with no emotional investment to cop David Brown would think. Or just see for yourself, as the cop takes advantage of his badge, skirts the boundaries of the law and even bullies his fellow officers. 
He only takes exception to the charge of racism: “I hate all people equally.”

Now playing exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, Rampart reunites Harrelson with director Oren Moverman, who guided the Zombieland leader to a career-second Oscar nomination in 2009’s The Messenger. Until now, that harrowing film captured Harrelson at his most dramatic.

Here, he’s even more stark, even more sober (not in alcoholic terms, just to clarify) as Brown, a chain-smoking, bitter-veneer cop who harbors a history of so many bad habits, his squad nickname is “Date Rape Dave.”

Being corrupt and cheerless is simply par for the course, more or less tolerated by the force until his anger gets the best of him following a car accident, and he beats the other driver senseless. The only thing he contends he did wrong is that he did it in front of someone’s video camera. Because of the ensuing media coverage, the department is, in the words of an assistant DA (Sigourney Weaver, Cedar Rapids), “hemorrhaging prestige.”

The movie is not. Better than The Messenger, Moverman’s follow-up essentially gives Harrelson his Training Day, minus the pat Hollywood ending. Instead, it ends (properly, I’d argue) on an ambiguous note, rendering the story more authentic. Honesty had to be the director’s intent, because group dialogue overlaps in the style of Robert Altman, as everyday conversations do.

Rampart also radiates a dark shade of L.A. soul, with a can’t-be-faked flavor I couldn’t quite detect until I saw with whom Moverman co-wrote the screenplay: James Ellroy, one of finest practitioners of crime fiction, and no stranger to real-life tragedy and despair.

The cast does their words justice, including an initially unrecognizable Ben Foster (Harrelson’s Messenger co-star) and a chilling Ned Beatty (The Killer Inside Me), who is to this film what Albert Brooks was to Drive.

And speaking of the Oscar-snubbed, add Harrelson alongside Michaels Fassbender and Shannon for an extraordinary performance not nominated for Best Actor by this year’s Academy Awards. He deserved that third nod. —Rod Lott

Rod Lott

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