The character at the heart of Rampart is deliciously and realistically complex and it’s one of the key reasons that the film is so good.
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13 Mar 2014 - 9:45 AM  UPDATED 4 Mar 2017 - 11:00 AM

James Ellroy wrote the original screenplay

Former NSW Premier Bob Carr said here that James Ellroy is “the only crime novelist worth reading”. With Peter Temple on this earth I can’t agree but, like Carr I’m sure, any mention anywhere of Ellroy sparks my interest – and he wrote the original screenplay of Rampart. The other writing credit is director Oren Moverman’s but they didn’t collaborate in the traditional sense of the word: rather, the producers invited Moverman on board to pick up where Ellroy left off. (And only later was Moverman invited on board as director.) Moverman says that he tried to adopt Ellroy’s voice and that his agenda was humanist and Ellroy’s was authoritarian, which created tension in the finished film.

 

Woody Harrelson’s performance is fabulous

Woody Harrelson’s two Oscar nominations are for The People vs Larry Flynt (1996) and Moverman’s directorial debut, The Messenger (2009), but his performance as the gaunt, wired Los Angeles police officer Dave Brown in Rampart has to be one of his best because it is so intense and transfixing. Brown is under extreme pressure because he is not dealing at all well with his authority being challenged at every turn. It’s not just his volatile nature at work here; it’s also the changing nature of policing. “He may deny it, but he works extra hard to believe he can ‘be’ the character and that kind of drive brings him to the emotional truth of the character,” said Moverman  of Harrelson’s acting style. “There's no real technique to this work, it's about creating an environment to make him feel safe to try new things, and fail, and then try something else.”

 

Sigourney Weaver

Another veteran, Sigourney Weaver, is always fabulous. Say no more.

 

Do characters have to be likeable?

Film schools teach that, for the sake of the audience, characters have to be likeable. This film is an ideal test case for this often-heard likeability rule because Brown is a smartarse and a bully who believes he has the right to determine guilt and dispense punishment. That said, I suspect that women have more trouble being sympathetic because of his sexism and his predatory sexual behaviour. And several men I know have voiced their unqualified admiration of the film. Harrelson was at first very unimpressed with Rampart, and I wonder if this relates to what he thought of Brown in the finished film. In the article mentioned above from Indiewire the director talks about “finding” the movie in the edit so perhaps the film is very different from his script as well as Ellroy’s – and he also discusses how the two men made up over a few tears.

 

He gets what he deserves

Brown is deliciously and realistically complex and his behaviour is ethically wrong. It is comforting that his past catches up with him for someone like me, who is always trying to stamp out the sanctimonious tendencies I have no right to have.

 

Watch 'Rampart' now at SBS On Demand

 

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