DVD review: Rampart

(MA15+) **** 

Director: Oren Moverman. 

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube. 

IN case you needed it, this unsettling cop drama is further proof that Woody Harrelson is one of the most underrated actors going round.

He rules this movie and makes it something special with a gifted and gritty performance as an old-school LA cop not afraid to let loose with his night-stick.

The film's ambiguity and overly arty cinematography may put some people off, but Harrelson makes it watchable even in its slower or more predictable moments.

Set in 1999 in the wake of the LAPD's "Rampart" corruption scandal, Harrelson plays Dave Brown, a Vietnam vet whose police reputation was made in the '80s when he allegedly murdered a date-rapist.

His temper, drinking, racism, misogyny and loose morals make him a ticking time bomb, and as the internal affairs people circle over Brown's savage beating of a citizen, Brown looks set to implode.

Everything in Rampart exists in an intriguing grey area, particularly Brown's relationships with his ex-wives (played by Heche and Nixon) or old buddies (Beatty) or his flings (Wright). This greyness also encompasses the film's morality, its ending and some of its narrative. Nothing is really defined and subplots of paranoia (is Brown being set up and by whom?) are left hanging tantalisingly unexplored. This will frustrate some and intrigue others, but if you're willing to buy into the film's overall mood and occasional arty vagueness, you can settle in for the Woody show.

Harrelson dominates - he's in every scene - and even with such a stellar cast around him (even Steve Buscemi pops up in a small role), everyone else is a bit player. His character's downward spiral is a tad predictable but the performance is touching enough in places to compensate. Brown may be a corrupt boozy cop, but he loves his daughters and truly believes he is doing right in the world. It's a complex role and one made real by Harrelson - Brown never feels like a cliche, even if his trajectory verges on it.

Harrelson has been on a roll in the last few years with his turns in Seven Pounds, The Messenger, Defendor, and Zombieland. This is another feather in his cap.

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