"Based on their family histories, Woody Harrelson and James Ellroy were careening race-cars destined to collide," suggests Time's Richard Corliss. "Harrelson's father Charles was convicted of the 1979 murder of a federal judge on a contract from a drug dealer. Occasionally boasting that he killed John F Kennedy, Charles died in a supermax prison cell in Colorado four years ago. Ellroy's mother Jean was found strangled and dumped by a roadside in 1958. Her son, 10 at the time, believed the crime went unsolved because of police apathy in investigating it. That haunting suspicion propelled him into writing novels about cops and killers, including LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid (which climaxes in the Kennedy assassination), and a 1996 book, My Dark Places, that attempted to find the identity of his mother's murderer. So Harrelson's starring role as a wayward cop in Oren Moverman's Rampart, co-written by Ellroy from his story, feels like Kismet."
Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "A sun-scorched noir, Rampart tells a familiar story with such visual punch and hustling energy that it comes close to feeling like a new kind of movie, though it's more just a tough gloss on American crime stories past." Harrelson plays Dave Brown, "one of those dirty cops who ooze out of the smog-kissed Los Angeles sprawl to keep the peace in paradise, usually by breaking heads and gunning for trouble."
"If Robert Altman had made a cop drama, it might have looked and sounded like Rampart," offers Glenn Heath Jr in Slant. "Nearly every scene in Oren Moverman's examination of LAPD officer Dave Brown's fall from grace is captured via overlapping dialogue, slow zooms, and measured pacing. Not only does this incredibly loose aesthetic challenge the traditionally controlled and slick conventions of the cop genre, it adds a certain visceral haziness that compliments Brown's own professional and personal immorality. Every move Dave makes, whether it's picking up women at a bar or harassing criminals on the street, feels infected with a long-gestating rot that has slowed his world down to a crawl."
"The last few weeks have provided us with some iconic imagery of police violence in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement," Alison Willmore reminds us at Movieline: "Lt John Pike casually pepper spraying a group of UC Davis students like he's Febrezing a sofa, 84-year-old Dorli Rainey being helped away from a confrontation in Seattle after being doused herself, Marine Scott Olsen getting carried out through a haze of tear gas in Oakland with a fractured skull. These recent events lend Oren Moverman's Rampart a queasy immediacy even though it's set in the 90s, as the LAPD's Rampart Division struggles through the notorious police misconduct scandal that ended up implicating dozens of officers and inspired the likes of Training Day and The Shield."
That scandal "saw some 70 officers implicated in criminal activity remains one of the most widespread instances of documented misconduct in American history," adds Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. That said: "'The title of the movie is not "The Rampart Scandal,"' Moverman said during a recent interview in Los Angeles. 'Rampart is a street, Rampart is a neighborhood, Rampart is a police district, rampart is a defensive embankment of a fort... The scandal was a great backdrop because it symbolized a time of great change, with a character who refused to change.' That character — a uniformed officer given the nickname 'Date Rape' within the station house after he was rumored to have killed a serial rapist as an act of street-level justice — is played with ferocious conviction by Harrelson. His performance has spurred awards chatter since the film premiered on the festival circuit earlier in the fall."
"It took playing an unrepentant murderer in Natural Born Killers for Woody Harrelson to shake off his Cheers comic-naïf persona," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "[G]iven the incendiary turn the actor delivers in Oren Moverman's cop drama, he'll now need to take a legion of hayseed-buffoon parts to be viewed as something other than a walking human wound…. With his bulletlike head and ramrod physique, the actor nails someone living and breathing a curdled culture of law-enforcement machismo; when he starts to come apart at the seams, you can feel the star plumbing emotional depths that he's only hinted at previously. The film has its narrative flaws and, occasionally, distracting stylistic flourishes. Harrelson's portrayal of a swinging dick staring down the abyss, however, is perilously close to perfect; it's the finest, most harrowing thing he's ever done."
"Rampart is Moverman's second consecutive collaboration with Harrelson, after The Messenger, which earned the actor an Oscar nomination," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "Here the director pulls off the formidable task of marrying two unwieldy performances: Harrelson's, a volatile and vulnerable feat of showboating, and Ellroy's, whose writing voice is unmistakably the voice of the movie." Ultimately, "they've created a fascinatingly elliptical, open-ended pulp fiction out of a character study so subjective it's nearly psychedelic."
Earlier: Reviews from Toronto. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.