Combustible Celluloid
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With: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Bernthal, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Anne Heche, Ned Beatty, Cynthia Nixon, Jon Foster, Michael Whittaker, Robert Wisdom, Don Creech, Stella Schnabel
Written by: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Directed by: Oren Moverman
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence
Running Time: 108
Date: 09/10/2011

Rampart (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Filthy Pig

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Two years ago, screenwriter Oren Moverman made his directorial debut with the surprisingly subtle, intelligent, and graceful The Messenger. Now he returns with his two stars from that film, Woody Harrelson in the lead and Ben Foster in a smaller role, but the result is a good deal heavier.

Los Angeles cop "Date Rape" Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) lives with an ambiguous mark on his record: the slaying of a serial rapist. Now, in 1999, two more incidents happen in rapid succession. First, he is captured on video beating a motorist that crashed into Dave's squad car. Later, when he tries to profit from a dirty card game, he becomes involved in a robbery and shoots and kills a man. Now, while being investigated, he tries to hang onto his family, especially his two daughters. But he also tries to lose himself in anonymous sex, alcohol, smoking, and drugs. Is there any hope for Dave, or is he lost?

Looking at this study of a dirty cop, it's hard not to think of the two great Bad Lieutenant films -- Abel Ferrara's 1992 release and Werner Herzog's 2009 version -- and how they were anguished, operatic, and completely loony. Moverman's movie is the opposite of its lead character, sober and serious, and with an eye on some kind of social commentary. Moreover, since every scene is intently focused on the main character, the supporting characters -- and the amazing cast that embodies them -- never get a chance to shine. However, Harrelson is given a great challenge and he more than rises to the occasion. And the screenplay, co-written by Moverman and novelist James Ellroy, often has an appealingly poetic rhythm.
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