Rampart is an anti-thriller, the reverse Training Day; in that film the muscular Denzel Washington and his corruption were dismantled by a white knight rookie. Rampart has no white knights; built around the zombielike ‘Date Rape’ Dave Brown; racist, homophobe, misogynist, philanderer; officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, out of the infamous Rampart division at the tail end of that long-running late nineties scandal. The century is about to change, and there is a definite echo of the Wild Bunch in Rampart. Brown is a dinosaur who considers the truth, lies, justice, injustice, violence (including murder), subterfuge and exploitation of his past, or present role as an LAPD beat cop, as equal methods of getting what he wants. Whether that is to hold on to his job after a vicious beating ends up on the nightly news, or to ditch a stubborn Internal Affairs officer digging around a dirty shooting. He talks a defence lawyer into bed, and abuses and abandons his few friends. He is the emotional centre of the film, but seems to have no centre himself.

As his cruiser crawls the kerbs of gangland L.A., Brown becomes part of the landscape. A decaying gunfighter thawed out to work police work. A psycho with a badge and a gun. Woody Harrelson vanishes into the sunken eyes and concrete jaw bone of Dave Brown. His contradictions, his utterly absent morality, which isn’t even as structured as to be called nihilism. The film is as vaguely defined as the character, with no real ending and certainly no resolution, and the preceding scenes being a barely-linked series of substance-abused vignettes as Brown drifts between women, drifts on and off duty, in and out of various kinds of trouble. He is acerbic, funny and frightening. He seems to transfer his complete detachment to all of his relationships by proxy. Two sisters, who were his wife at different times, and their separate children seem to have been drained of all emotion by their association with Brown. Brown has a magnetic pull, and like his lovers he draws the audience in with his charm, before close inspection reveals his utter putridity.

Rampart is a difficult film to place. Without the period romance of L.A. Confidential, or the mechanical structure of the French Connection; it is the opposite of the Thin-Blue-Line morality and ghetto gunfights of the excellent Training Day and End of Watch. It’s closest to Harsh Times, but with the comedy turned completely pitch black. Harrelson is none of the cinematic police characters. He lacks the myopic Ahabic determination of Popeye Doyle or the gleeful nihilism of Alonzo Harris. He is less of a human being than a sleeping skeleton, the title refers as much to him as his precinct, he is the rampart, he is a human redoubt, a emotional oubliette from which no light can ever escape.

Written under duress by Steven.

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