Static Mass Rating: 5/5

Release date (UK): February 24th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 108 minutes

Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jon Bernthal, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Ned Beatty, Cynthia Nixon, Jon Foster

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I don’t dare to imagine a cop like Dave Brown being after me. It’s as bad as it gets. I don’t need to be guilty, let alone suspect. It’s enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or to make an honest mistake — worse still, if I were black, poor or a member of a so-called minority. I’d be his to beat and to kill if he just forgets to stop beating. Dave Brown is the Evil in public service.

The notorious Rampart Division at the Los Angeles Police Department is where this man is supposed to serve the public. In 1999, the Rampart corruption scandal had been at its peak. 70 police officers — either members or associated with the anti-gang unit at Rampart — were implicated in some form of severe police misconduct, including unprovoked shootings and beatings.


In the film, Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) gets caught on camera beating a suspect almost to death. Similar to the Rodney King incident that led to the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Brown’s outburst is aired on TV and triggers public outrage, an official investigation and a landslide in Dave’s private life.

Harrelson portraits a broken soul living in frustration, violence and isolation. There haven’t been too many cinematic characters as complex and disturbing as this cop. The man gets to you even if you close your eyes in his most obnoxious moments. Harrelson’s performance is incredible, he makes us look deep into the abyss of this cop’s mind, and the abyss looks back at us. Merciless.


Rampart is an absorbing character study; the story takes Brown out of the biased environment of his precinct and puts him right into the dirt where we see his sadism and perfidy eating away at him by the minute. He is a wounded predator, baring his teeth one last time.

The disaster is inevitable. As Brown comes under fire, he needs lawyers and money. Matters get worse as he wades the swamp of crime and corruption. The film stays away from the conventional crime plot; the events play out in a matter-of-fact way. There are no stylish action scenes, no choreographed shootouts, no noir-suspense. The tension comes from watching Dave Brown losing the last of his humanity and self-respect.

Adding pressure and distress, the heat of Los Angeles is always palpable. In the scintillating air of the suburbs, justice in any terms seems to be a rare guest. Why is Dave Brown the way he is? The story doesn’t attempt to answer this question but it points in many directions.


One of them: It would be too easy to condemn the rampant cop. Confronted by a tough assistant District Attorney (Sigourney Weaver), his bosses and Internal Affairs, Brown constantly utters sound bites from the official good-cop propaganda in his defence. This makes the accusers speechless, and it works. Brown keeps his uniform but it doesn’t protect him from overwhelming rejection, above all at home.

He lives with his two ex-wives who are sisters. He has a daughter by each of them. It is a dysfunctional non-family that seems to keep Dave’s rage and anger at bay but doesn’t help his attitude towards women which is full of contempt. The open relationship with the two women and the half-hearted care for his two daughters seem like Flower Power gone wrong badly. Eventually they throw him out, and Brown is an outcast for good, hitting rock bottom.


There are reasons why people like Dave Brown exist in the first place. How people like him can become the police officers they are may be a mystery, but Rampart hints at the reasons with a subliminal back story that makes Brown’s journey to that very dark place seem almost predestined.

A unique and tense crime thriller, Rampart is also a grim and trenchant statement on a society that has lost track of its finest, not only the police. Though the film is not opinionated, Brown’s story is thought-provoking in an extremely emotional way. Even if there doesn’t seem to be a good man hidden in Brown’s character, he is anything but naturally evil.

About Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.

Jonahh has his own blog at De Omnibus Dubitandum, and you can follow him on Twitter @jonahhphoto.