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Toronto 2011. Oren Moverman's "Rampart"

Even admirers of Moverman and Harrelson's The Messenger are struggling with this new LA noir.

"Screenwriter Oren Moverman and comedy actor Woody Harrelson each made a notable transition with the 2009 drama The Messenger," writes Steven Zeitchik, introducing his chat with both for the Los Angeles Times. "The film, about two army men (Harrelson and Ben Foster) dispatched to the homes of soldiers killed on the battlefield, was Harrelson's first major dramatic part in more than a decade (it landed him an Oscar nomination) and Moverman's first-ever directing gig. The pair up the ante with Rampart, a story about a corrupt cop that premiered Saturday night at the Toronto Film Festival and is seeking theatrical distribution. In The Messenger, Harrelson puts on a uniform and tries, for the most part, to do the right thing. In Rampart, he puts on a uniform and does almost anything but."

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt: "Rampart takes its name from the LAPD's scandal-plagued Rampart division, where dirty cops once rubbed shoulders with drug dealers, undocumented aliens, misfits of all sorts and terrified citizens. And the movie gives you the dirtiest cop you can imagine, a monster conjured forth from a moral sewer by director Oren Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy — author of a series of noir novels about LAPD's history of brutality and racism. Played by Woody Harrelson with an intensity that sears the screen, Dave Brown is a loathsome protagonist in a movie that fails to acknowledge any truly good person can possibly exist."

"It's 1999," writes Variety's Justin Chang, "and Officer Dave Brown (Harrelson) is a rough-justice type whose 24 years on the force have taught him the necessity of bending the rules from time to time. Early scenes offer a quick sketch of this charismatically crooked figure, from his combative relationships with his fellow officers, laced with casually racist and chauvinist put-downs, to his weirdly functional relationships with his ex-wives (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), who still live with him and each have a daughter by him. (Also, they're sisters.) It's implied that Dave's fierce protectiveness of his daughters partly motivated his alleged killing of a serial rapist years ago…. Soon he's being pressed to retire by assistant district attorney Joan Confrey (a splendid Sigourney Weaver), the most satisfying of the many distaff nemeses Dave squares off with; another is Linda Fentress (Robin Wright), a foxy defense lawyer whom he ill-advisedly picks up in a bar." Rampart "bears out the intelligence and moral toughness" of The Messenger. "But while that film had a searching quality that uncovered new depths in every scene, Rampart seems to choke off feeling as it progresses, as if the filmmakers, having figured out humanity's cynical equation, had nothing left to offer emotionally."

"I was taken aback when the end credits started rolling, momentarily left with that 'Is that all there is?' feeling," writes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek. "But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the movie ended in just the right place, taking us as far as we can go with this loose-cannon cop before he's left to face his own isolation. Once we, the audience, part ways with him, he's truly on his own."

"The film finds the director beautifully lensing even the most seemingly innocuous of scenes," writes the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth. "Among the highlights is a wickedly quasi-360 camera scene in the mayor's office, the camera slowly sweeping between Harrelson, Weaver and [Steve] Buscemi during an increasingly contentious argument. Another is a great sequence in the second half of the film in which Dave, nearing rock bottom, wastes a night away at an underground industrial club, where, once again, Moverman side-swipes a conventional approach and delivers something we'd expect from someone like Gaspar Noé."

 



"Even if some LA landmarks make their way into the film — Pacific Dining Car and Original Tommy's, for example — the city feels like a construct," finds Howard Feinstein, writing in Screen. "No matter that Brown cruises through some seedy neighborhoods that feel realistic enough, but many of the sets and locations make the movie seem more like the projection of a crime fiction or crime film buff than an insider or astute observer of the City of Angels. But then, the original noir films from the 1940s and 50s never pretended to be cinema verite."

Filmmaker's Jason Guerrasio has five questions for Moverman.

Update, 9/13: "While Harrelson is magnetic, Moverman could be accused of loving this unsavory but undeniably compelling character a bit too much," writes Tim Grierson at the Projector. "There's a bracing, uncompromising spirit that powers Harrelson's performance and Moverman's vision, but this stunning one-man show also ends up a little one-note."

Updates, 9/15: "As grimy visually as it is gritty in its narrative, Rampart declares itself an indie film rather than a mainstream movie by spending lots of time studying its star's distinct profile while he prowl-cars through the LA night," observes Time's Richard Corliss. "That's often a sign of directorial indulgence or vacuity, but Harrelson rewards watching; he's no less potent at rest than when he explodes in calculated rage. Moverman (who halfway through the Toronto festival had yet to find a US distributor for the film) would be wise to engage the actor again, and extend The Messenger and Rampart into a trilogy. 'We've done two movies with Woody in uniform, as a soldier and a police officer,' the director told the Los Angeles Times. 'So I guess now he has to play a postal worker.'"

This is "an increasingly wobbly West Coast Bad Lieutenant, with Moverman's smart and lethally sharp script — of the sort an actor like Harrelson knows exactly how to finesse — falling victim to over-direction," argues the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

"Moverman's talent is evident; maybe some day he'll have the confidence to ease off the throttle a bit," suggests Scott Tobias at the AV Club, where Noel Murray is "more or less with Scott on this one, though actually I was impressed by how un-Shield-like the movie ended up being." They both give Rampart a B.

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