A sinking familiarity greets Rampart’s setup. From its plot (corruption in the LAPD) to its players (internal affairs, district attorneys and no-good hoodlums), the film patrols oft-walked streets. The Rampart Scandal alone (in which the endemic misconduct of the department’s anti-gang unit was exposed) has informed a plethora of bad cop/worse cop tales, from Street Kings to The Shield. Yet Rampart never feels stale, thanks largely to Woody Harrelson’s weighty portrayal of its fascistically violent central character, Officer David Brown.
With whiplash dialogue co-written by genre don James Ellroy, Harrelson has plenty to chew on. The character’s potent eloquence is a thrill, as Brown tries talking his way out of a deepening destructive spiral. It’s Harrelson’s second outstanding performance in a row for director Oren Moverman (after last year’s Oscar-nominated The Messengers), and demonstrates just how compelling he can be when given an all-too-rare starring role. Repulsive yet sympathetic, his committed turn ensures Rampart’s nihilistic tone stays palatable. [Chris Buckle]