This new L.A.-set late 1990s drama is perhaps too grim and monotonous for its own good.
Nevertheless, Rampart, Oren Moverman's reunion with Woody Harrelson (Friends With Benefits) has enough viscerally charged, scene-chewing with much leading intensity from the latter's thuggishly macho cop, Dave Brown who "hates everyone equally."
Brown fits the mold of many a hero (with wanton, compulsive streaks) from lauded crime author James Ellroy, who fashioned the story (and seems to know the ins and outs of the L.A.P.D.) and assisted on the screenplay.
His longtime, brutal cop has been admired for his dispatching of a serial offender (earning the nickname "Date Rape" without feeling the rigors of the justice system. His current administering of nighttime justice is putting his badge on the line.
Harrelson's persuasive portrait of a complicated, lewd and terrorizing, yet educated and taunting individual hovering over a family of two ex-wives and two spoiled, cute daughters has enough caustic potency for a good portion of the film's running time. Especially from his own personal, paternal, compulsive perspective.
Then, Moverman (formerly in the Israeli military) and Ellroy can't manage to keep a compelling corruption saga from becoming too thinly drawn and overwrought. A documentary-like approach keeps a simmering intensity with loathsome, melodramatic outbursts as some viewers may be reminded of Denzel Washington's winning dirty cop in Antoine Fuqua's finally over-the-top Training Day.
The last act doesn't get as manic as that even if some gritty filmmaking can't overcompensate for tapering off of plot. Still, in this sharply managed mess, Harrelson works off his own image in an unflinching way - Dave's guilt-ridden, moralizing sinner and subpar spouse lives for excuses and the vigilance of women in his life. Mention in secondary roles can be made for Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon as Dave's ex-wives, Robin Wright's dignified legal love interest whose intentions may not be that honorable, as well as Sigourney Weaver as a no-nonsense D.A. and Ice Cube as her persistent investigator. And, Ned Beatty and (Harrelson's costar from Moverman's more coherent The Messenger) Ben Foster pop up to portentous, unrecognizable effect, respectively.
From its troubled district, a diverting, but ragged Rampart just can't dramatically jolt what Harrelson brutally triggers with casual visceral verve.