As Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers wraps, Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) kills Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) and gets away. Would he have remained a free man for long? Would he have been able to contain his homicidal impulses?
Sounds totally batty, but perhaps the police force would have been the right place for Mickey to hide. Cops carry guns. They behave brutally on occasion. They function in a bubble that separates them from civilians. And they close ranks when one of their own fucks up -- for a while, anyway, at least until the fuck-ups become something even they can't manage.
In Rampart, written by James Elroy and director Oren Moverman, Woody Harrelson is Dave Brown, the sociopathic cop Mickey Knox might have become had he used his nut. With people like this, there's the inevitable meltdown, the time of reckoning when the impulse starts showering those around them like geysers of piss.
Brown, who lives in two side-by-side houses with two sisters, has been pissing on them and his kids for quite a while. Whether riding around in his police car or hanging about at home, Brown is the classic case of a guy who can't get out of his own way. His life is a highway of personal collisions, his body a sweaty souvenir of his vices. Characters like Brown are exaggerated forms of us. Their demons are not unfamiliar. We stare google-eyed at their slow motion wreckage, not quite sure why we're connecting, but knowing it's ringing true.
To the LAPD, Dave's become an embarrassment, a stain. Like the viewer, they can't get a firm grip on him. They're frustrated by his refusal to co-operate with them on matters relating to a beating and two murders. He doesn't play anybody's game but his own. He's got a lot in common with Mickey Knox.
Harrelson as Mickey Knox (Natural Born Killers)
Marketed as a film about the most corrupt cop ever, Rampart is a compelling piece of work that is a lot more than its marketing suggests. Equally interesting is Brown's relationship with his two angry wives (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon). They're eager to show him the door, but he won't release them. He's at home with their venom because it's the venom he knows. There's also an emotionally brutal sideshow he's running with Robin Wright, a woman whose vagina doesn't quite earn Brown's trust. Their lust-charged affair is about as poisoned as something can get. The piss Brown sprays on everybody is acidic and permanent, and there's no obvious redemption ahead. Lacking basic self awareness and lost in grand delusions of his professional identity, Brown is immensely watchable and listenable as played by Harrelson and written (beautifully) by Elroy and Moverman.
Technically, Rampart is extremely innovative without being nausea-inducing. There's a lot of handheld camera and DP Bobby Bukowski's frames are often splashed with flare and natural "accidents". I liked how characters often met on the edge of frame or were captured from above or below. Director Moverman constructs collages of light and sound that make up a a gritty, pulsing tableaux.
Several months ago, comedy actor Albert Brooks was cast against type and proved a brilliant crime boss in Nicholas Winding Refn's sublime Drive. In Rampart, Ned Beatty (who last appeared on-screen in the excellent The Killer Inside Me), does an Albert Brooks and knocks the ball out of the park as Dave Brown's only "friend", a cop with his finger in too many pies. Beatty makes a feast of a great role and gives it fine ambiguity.
A truly great achievement. Don't miss it.