Few actors have a résumé as diverse as Woody Harrelson’s, and even less have managed to leave a long-running sitcom and avoid the perils of audience over-familiarity and typecasting. Since Cheers wrapped, Harrelson has worked with the likes of Oliver Stone, Terrence Malick, the Coen Brothers and Robert Altman, and his turn as a corrupt cop in Oren Moverman’s Rampart (2011) is further proof that he is capable of creating troubled, complex characters.
David Brown (Harrelson) is somewhat of a hero to his fellow officers due to his tough no nonsense approach, and although his colleagues and superiors are fully aware that he bends the law to breaking point what they don’t know is the full extent of his abuses of power. Brown shakes down pharmacists for Viagra pills, commits armed robberies and kills anyone that might have something on him.
He’s a bad cop in a violent city and whilst Brown echoes Harvey Keitel’s nameless gumshoe in the original Bad Lieutenant (1992) he has more in common with Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001). Both Harris and Brown are corrupt but charming souls who struggle with the guilt and immorality that has turned them into monsters. They would like to get out but are in too deep and despite their efforts to hold back the tide, sooner or later it’s bound to wash over them.
Rampart is Oren Moverman’s follow-up to The Messenger (2009) which also featured a strong performance from Harrelson and the director has a good eye. His use of reflection, colour and close-up is cool rather than flashy but unfortunately the script, which he also wrote doesn’t quite pack the punch that it should. It’s all a little too cold and inevitable and although the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright do fine their characters are under developed as the constant focus on Brown leaves little room for anyone else to breath.
Moverman’s Rampart is a fine film with a towering leading performance from Harrelson, great cast and solid direction, but may perhaps be too low-key to linger long in the memory.