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Shawn’s Review – “Rampart” (2011)

Nothing fascinates like a dirty cop. In real life they’re terrifying, but in the movies their upending of law and order can open deep explorations of psychology, morality and violence. So meet Dave Brown, Brown is a cop long ago unleashed from the rules of the Los Angeles Police Department. Roving the streets in his black-and-white cruiser, he governs and punishes at will. His home life is a riddle. Somehow he has fathered children with two sisters. Somehow he still lives casually with them both, slipping in and out of a family life that’s as tangled as his long career on the force. His own daughter calls him Date Rape. That’s because, years ago, Brown may have killed a rapist and gotten away with it. The shadow of the incident still haunts him, so when his Rampart division gets caught up in a corruption scandal, Brown makes an easy target. As the controversy seeps through the department and into city hall, this hardened, reckless officer finds himself at the center of a sordid L.A. story. – Millennium Entertainment

30 out of 100

When we first heard about Rampart, we were very excited to say the least. The Los Angeles Police Department has a long and storied history as rich and full as any major police department in the country and we’d even go so far that its history, along with its Hollywood backdrop, provides for a narrative more compelling than even that of New York or Chicago. Throughout the history of cinema, no other police department has been so thoroughly documented on film, both fictionally and factually. Rampart was supposed to bring audiences yet another fictional telling of the mythology surrounding the Rampart Division scandal that rocked the department in the late 1990′s. The most recent and easily recognizable version of this story unfolded on the critically acclaimed F/X drama The Shield for six seasons. Mix all of this in with an all-star cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ice Cube, and Ben Foster, Rampart became our most anticipated film of 2012.

The reality is, though, that despite these factors, this isn’t really a film, it’s a character study… and a bad one at that… and we feel scammed.

Don’t get us wrong, all of the performances in and of themselves in this film are fantastic, but with the exclusion of Harrelson’s Brown, they are all little more than cameo appearances because other than the fact that most of the cast has very limited screen time, the development of the characters and their back-stories is so limited that the audience cannot relate or attach to any of them. Even as good and compelling as Harrelson is as Brown, he’s no Vic Mackey. Mackey was an anti-hero in every sense of the word from the first episode of The Shield and you knew immediately that you weren’t supposed to root for him but you did it anyway and you hated yourself for it. There is none of that with Brown because they never really explain to you anything in-depth about the character to explain his motivation so you really don’t know how you’re supposed to feel about him. They hint at a lot but the dialogue is written with so little exposition that it it seems as if the writers felt the audience should just know the entire history of these characters before they started watching the film or else it’s their owned damned fault for missing production meetings or something.

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The fact is that there are just too many different weakly written characters in this film with small parts that pick away at screen time that should be allocated to Harrelson and with all of these of these bit parts crammed into the 107 run-time, there is literally no room for any kind of discernible plot and that is why this film fails so miserably. We still don’t know what the story is. There was one point in the film where it seemed hopeful that there might be some semblance of a plot emerging involving a hinted-at conspiracy to set up Brown as a scapegoat for the whole department to take the public’s attention off of the actual Rampart scandal, but that quickly faded without resolution just like every other event in this film. And that’s what the film is: a series of unresolved events packed with poorly developed characters portrayed by an excellent cast to distract the audience from recognizing how poorly written this film actually is.

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