DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
DVD Released: 5/15/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/25/2012
Many, many times in the past, we've discussed the fact that there aren't many new ideas in the realm of movies. It would be inaccurate to say that every story has been told, but, at this point, I think that we're getting close. Of course, this means that there are going to be movies which resemble one another, if not looking completely identical. In many cases, the movies try (and I emphasize the word try) to put their own unique spin on the story. However, we sometimes run across a film which is much like its brethren that we question its very existence. This was my reaction to the Woody Harrelson vehicle Rampart.
Rampart takes place in 1999 (which is when a real-life scandal took place in this area). Harrelson stars as Los Angeles Police Department officer Dave Brown. Dave is a veteran of the force, but he also has a bad reputation. His nickname is "Date Rape", as he once shot and killed an alleged date rapist. He has very strong opinions about minorities and criminals and he's not afraid to share them. Dave's domestic situation is very strange. He takes turns living with neighbors Barbara (Cynthia Nixon) and Catherine (Anne Heche), and he's had a child with both women. Dave is a heavy drinker and rarely eats. While on patrol, Dave's car is hit. He chases down the driver and brutally beats the man. This is captured on video by a passer-by and Dave finds himself under investigation by internal affairs, led by Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver). Not only does she want to know about this recent event, but Dave's past as well. When Dave is involved in another questionable event, his life begins to spin out of control. He turns to lawyer Linda Fentress (Robin Wright) for help, but their relationship is flawed from the outset. As things begin to fall apart at home, Dave's reckless behavior gets the best of him.
There are many surprising (and not in a good way) things about Rampart, but the most surprising is that the script was co-written (along with Director Oren Moverman) by James Ellroy. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote the source novel forL.A. Confidential, one of the best movies about the L.A.P.D. ever made. How did Ellroy go from that multi-layered and twisty piece of historical fiction to something like Rampart? Ellory has written many more novels and screenplays since L.A. Confidential, and they haven't all been winners, such as 2008's Street Kings.
But, the most off-putting thing about Rampart is the feeling that we've seen it all before. This movie is very reminiscent of Bad Lieutenant and it's unrelated sequel Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. Dave's character is very similar to the ones presented in those films. He's a dedicated cop who does things his own way. Technically, he's corrupt, as he plants evidence, abuses suspects, and lies to his superiors. However, he is always working to dole out justice and only punishes those who he feels are guilty. He abuses drugs and alcohol and can easily be out of control. His personal relationships are a mess and he can't handle confrontation. The only thing which makes Dave's character unique is that he attended law school before joining the force and he can quote important court rulings. Otherwise, we are treated to the same old scenes of the bad cop roughing up thugs, shooting people in cold blood, and feeling that his authority will work in social situations.
The lack of originality gets no help from the way in which Director Oren Moverman has opted to present the material. The movie mixes a cinema verite style with an almost dream-like look at times. The result is a film which is on the one hand gritty and realistic and the on the other surreal and distant. One things for sure, the movie doesn't flow. While the story is fairly linear, the scenes are disjointed and don't gel. I got the feeling that the cast never saw the script and each scene was made as a mini-movie.
Thus, it's a shame that such a great cast is wasted on such trivial material. Harrelson gives an incredibly intense performance which actually transcends the script. Dave is a time-bomb waiting to go off and we feel that "coiled spring" in Harrelson and we wait for Dave to lose it. (Spoiler: This never pays off.) Along with the actors mentioned above, the film also features Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, and a nearly unrecognizable Ben Foster. These performers certainly bring some notoriety and power to the movie, but there's not much that they can do for Moverman's dreary presentation and the unoriginal story. Rampart should be suspended without pay until further notice.
Rampart made me wonder what Woody from Cheers would think of all of this on DVD courtesy of Millennium Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain (save for when it's used for artistic purposes) and no defects from the source material. This is a dark movie at times, but this is juxtaposed with bright, sunny scenes. Neither of these elements is either overly dark or bright. The colors look good, most notably reds and greens. The image is never soft and for a DVD, the level of detail is fairly good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The street scenes offers nicely done stereo and surround effects. These effects deliver a satisfactory amount of detail, as we can distinguish individual sounds at times. The subwoofer effects aren't as powerful, but they do resonate during the action scenes.
The Rampart DVD contains only two extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Oren Moverman. The making-of "Featurette" (30 minutes) offers a wealth of interviews with the cast and Moverman. They discuss the casting, the story, the themes, and the production. We also get a nice amount of on-set footage.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long