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Rampart – Owen Moverman. Bright, shiny, stylish: and empty


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Rampart – Oren Moverman

When did the Hollywood Dream factory re-tool to produce nightmares? Was there a key year; a definitive film? I always feel the repressed misogyny in largely male directed movies finally crossed a borderline with Brian de Palma’s 1980 Dressed To Kill: the first film I remember where I was, it seemed to me, invited to relish the killing of women. And find it sexy.

Violence and corruption would be a harder call: they have been so much part of the stock-in-trade of Hollywood for so many years. Many of the strands of the aesthetic exploitation of a fascination with violence have been woven in my view by Martin Scorcese, notably in Goodfellas; a film it still disturbs me to hear some people say they like so much they have seen it many times. That they are almost all young people unsettles me even more.

If not a watershed then at least a significant milestone was perhaps Travis Bickle the Fascist chic ‘hero’ of Taxi Driver who always struck me as a Nazi without a Reich.

What links these films to Rampart is the technical quality on show: cinematography, editing, performance, and yes direction. But to what end? For what purpose? Woody Harrelson, who has made a career out of menacing, amoral, nihilistic creeps is ‘brilliant’ as irremediably corrupt LA Cop Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown. The soubriquet was earned apparently when he sought out and executed a serial rapist some years before, using his quick tongue and faster wits to evade legal or disciplinary charges – but not responsibility of which he is of course proud. One of the more offensive suppressed premises in the James Ellroy/ Overman screenplay is that many people, and especially women, would of course secretly admire him for this act of dedicated social vengeance.

This is only one of many frankly hateful attitudes to women in Rampart. Not only are they secretly admiring of their murderous hero but they all fall over themselves to jump into to bed with him, including a shamefully wasted (in both senses) Robin Wright a so-called lawyer who spends most of her time cruising the wrong kind of bar and can’t stop herself dropping everything, literally to satisfy the archly bestowed delight of ‘call me Dave, don’t call me ‘Date Rape’s insatiable sexual appetite; because, wait for it ladies, in the actual words of the script – she “likes to suck c**k.” Obviously what the Hollywood Machocracy would regard as a liberated woman.

The younger female generation doesn’t escape as Davey boy has sired two daughters each from one of two sisters who of course are also so thrilled to be betrayed, abused and threatened that they all live unhappily together in a ménage-a-cinq waiting for their sexual scraps from the macho man-child. Even Dave’s older daughter Helen calls him Date Rape.

Just because you wrap this whole farrago of testosterone-fuelled macho wet dream fantasy in the veil of a period of Police corruption in LA in the 1990’s and let rampant Dave shoot anything that gets in his way under the guise of self-defence, doesn’t make it cool, or impressive. It really doesn’t.

It is a matter of serious interest and genuine puzzlement therefore why so many critics lap this stuff up. Time Out’s Tom Huddleston gave it 5 stars and concluded:

“Rampart is sure to provoke furious reactions in those unwilling to succumb to its mood of reckless abandon. But for those who can, this feverish slice of LA noir is set to be one of the purest cinematic pleasures of 2012.” 

On yer bike Tommy: even Eric Clapton, however brilliantly, can play a truly crap tune.

The other extraordinary feature of this phenomenon is that the films I have mentioned were made by truly talented directors: Scorcese, De Palma, and yes Moverman’s excellent I’m Not There about Bob Dylan, earns him a place in such company. In fact the other film that Rampart calls to mind in tone and sentimentally relished crookedness and violence is Bad Lieutenant, also directed by a big name director Werner Herzog. Yes and the same ciritcs loved that one too – even with Nic Cage supremely OTT even by his own impeccably high standards.

There is no real plot to Rampart: which is another vital ingredient of these films: just start it somewhere and stop, not end, it 108 minutes later and you’ll get credited with the genius of cool. Coherence is a real cult-killer.

The title of the film takes its name from the Division of the LA Police which in the 90’s was the centre of the biggest police corruption scandal in LA history – but our hero appears to be an entrepreneurial corrupt loner. Date Rape Dave isn’t a flawed man disillusioned with life and society: he’s a brutal, bullying, lying, betraying, cowardly creep with an unendearing line in self-pity, surrounded by stereotypical victimhood-seeking women who of course leave their brains by the kitchen sink and especially at the bedroom door.

Rampart is well made, very well acted, powerfully atmospheric piece of junk: however much you polish and buff it up – all you’ve got is a very shiny, very stylish, empty box. I guess that’s some kind of achievement.

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