When Martin Scorsese released Taxi Driver in 1976, he invited the film-going audience into the head of a sensational character. Travis Bickle, played to perfection by method genius Robert De Niro, has become one of the most socially inept, borderline sociopathic and iconic monsters in film history. Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), the focal point of Oren Moverman’s Rampart is built from the same mold. Slightly more socially competent, he becomes the centre of a corruption and brutality scandal that actually affected the Los Angeles Police Department in the late 1990s.
It is an incredible performance from a man who is fast becoming one of the most interesting and diverse actors working today. Woody Harrelson’s natural charisma and selection of roles in films like Rampart, and previously Friends with Benefits and Zombieland show just what he’s capable of, and the fact he was overlooked by the Oscar Nominations seems more and more harsh with each frame that goes by in this visually neat, and narratively weak thriller.
His nickname of ‘Date Rape’ (not for the reasons you might think), his closely shaved head and his I hate everyone equally attitude make him the obvious and easy scapegoat for an entire department and accusations of brutality levelled against him in the media and by his boss, Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver), give him a complex of persecution and unfairness. Being a straight-talking and overly aggressive character, this just causes him to further act out, and the camera follows him like a fly hovering over the stench of racism, sexism and homophobia that emanates from him throughout.
Director Moverman follows him his previous collaboration with Harrelson on the underrated The Messenger with another visually engaging stab at Rampart. It’s a real shame then, that behind the visual flair, Rampart lacks the strength of story-telling that made Taxi Driver such a classic.