Film Review: Rampart

I have a strange relationship with Woody Harrelson, in my mind I keep believing that he is going through a reinvention, that like his True Detective co-star Matthew McConaughey, he is maturing with age into a actor of note, forcing people to sit up and take notice. No longer the journey man playing anything and everything, producing quantity not quality.

But I’m not sure I’m right, because when you actually look at his recent films: The Hunger Games, True Dectective, Now You See Me, it appears that all he is doing is repeating the same tweaked character over and over again. The older, angrier, brawn before brains primate. Sometime’s he’s fuelled by depression, sometimes it alcohol and sometimes, it’s just simply being one step behind everyone else, but whatever the individual factor driving the performance, the underlying foundation never changes.

Woody Harrelson - True Detective

And Rampart is exactly the same. Harrelson arrives on screen as an aggressive, alcoholic luddite and I was suddenly back seeing flashes of the characters I’ve recently seen, the idiosyncratic chin from Now You See Me, the “my way or the highway” attitude from True Dectective. It’s all there, but this time is doesn’t matter, because this time everything is ramped up to eleven and it doesn’t take any time at all to have completely blown any imagery or comparison to his other performances straight out of my mind.

The most impressive part about this ability to drive those performances from my mind was the fact that Harrelson is in every shot of every scene. This film focuses purely on him and he manages to hold everything together well, and even more so, considering the character he played, I never once tired of him visually. The tone of the narrative surrounding his character is spot on and that’s important, because I hated him otherwise. I never sided with him and the longer the film went on the more repulsed by him I became as a person. It’s been a very long time since I can remember being that withdrawn and disgusted by the main character in a film. But Rampart nails it.

Woody Harrelson - Rampart

The film essentially is the tale of a crooked cop, who lives by his own rules under the justification of “the greater good” and how his life implodes as the net of reality and legality closes in around him. And it’s hard hitting. It’s designed to take moral and ethical questions and lay them bare in front of you; to force you into difficult situations and to pick your side. It wants, as a film, to tear you apart. To make you hate the main character while at the same time somehow pitying him. The fact that however wrong his actions, however much he strives to stay afloat as his life collapses around him, however desperate and out of control things get, can what he does, says and believe ever be justified? And Rampart asks this brilliantly, powerfully and with an almost disturbing clarity.

Strangely though, while it’s narrative themes jump straight into you, on a superficial level, I also found it emotionally numbing. It was asking these questions through a character that is a figure of authority. A policeman. Somebody you expect to be stiff, proper and always on your side, someone you can turn to in a crisis. So to see them portrayed in such a broken, twisted and warped way just felt wrong. And while there are stories in the media of the police taking advantage of their position of responsibility, to see it so aggressively portrayed on screen left me feeling uneasy.

Woody Harrelson (Police Beating) - Rampart

It’s not a friendly film. As I said it’s a hard watch and it left me feeling slightly sickened by the tone and strength of its story. It gets into your face and while I never relaxed or really enjoyed it in the most basic sense, I was also never bored either. It kept me hooked, or more accurately pinned up against a wall for its whole running time and my lasting memory, thinking back to it, is that it’s a film that is a battering, an assault upon you in a way that somehow entertains but also leaves you slightly nervous of it. You’re waiting for it to explode at you, leaving you on edge. The whole film is made on the strength of the performance by Harrelson, and I have to say that while potentially a little formulaic, it is so good that it actually manages to hide over the shallow plot and lack of character definition of those around him. Quite how his performance has gone so quietly under the radar I’m not sure.

Rampart is moody, nasty and very much a spotlight film. It’s racist and rude and it that needs to be watched on your own. It’s not a Sunday night with beer and pizza experience, but it’s worth seeing, if only to see that when pushed to an extreme Harrelson can be as good as anyone. Chin and all!

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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