Woody Harrelson has come a long way from slinging drinks at “Cheers.” He even nabbed an Oscar nod for his stint as Larry Flynt in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (one of two, the second was for “The Messenger”). In his new film, “Rampart,” expect the unexpected as Harrelson portrays the dirtiest cop since Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant.”
In his second collaboration with director Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”), Harrelson plays L.A. detective Dave Brown, aka “date rape Dave,” (a moniker he receives for supposedly murdering a serial date rapist). Dave is the personification of evil. He lives with two ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche), sisters, mind you, and has sex with both of them. He also has sex with anyone he meets in a bar. So much for the family man.
Daves sociopathic brutality is caught on video as he viciously beats a man who crashed into his cruiser. He seems to enjoy the negative publicity almost as much as the attack itself. But the assistant D.A. (Sigourney Weaver) isn’t impressed. So much for his career.
Dave’s misanthropic view of human beings is, “I hate all people equally.” And it’s evident at every turn. He even torments a homeless paraplegic (Ben Foster) who witnessed Dave murdering a man during a heist gone awry. His moral compass was either misplaced long ago or it never existed. We never know why Dave is so malevolent. It’s not important.
Moverman co-scripted “Rampart” with James Ellroy, and the result is magnificent. It’s so taut and tense that I found myself dreading what may be just around the corner during the entire film. “Rampart” is a thriller but not the in-your-face type, so overly employed these days. The fear lurks just beneath the surface.
Moverman expertly makes use of long takes, extreme close-ups and a documentary style of shooting. He also puts Harrelson in every scene, a risky, yet genius, move. That decision to do so works brilliantly because Harrelson is so on top of his game; you can’t get enough of him.
Harrelson’s performance as the despicable detective is mesmerizing and feral. His Ray-Ban bespectacled face is fearsome to behold.
Coupled with a sardonic grin, Dave exudes the type of evil that makes those tiny hairs on your arm stand on end. “Rampart” is rife with top-notch actors (Robin Wright, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty and Audra McDonald), but Harrelson owns this fascinating film.
It’s a crime that Harrelson was passed over this year for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. It’s his best work ever. There’s no forgetting detective Dave Brown.
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