Woody Harrelson has always been an outspoken weirdo, taking roles that no one really expects him to and excelling at them. I never would have guessed when I watched White Men Can't Jump in 1992 that the very same guy would make at least a couple movies every year after that, and that he would still surprise me ten years later. This time around, he plays the kind of cop that's popping up more often these days, but souped up to gigantic proportions. "Crooked" and "controversial" don't even begin to explain it.
Dave Brown is an LAPD cop in 1999, which should tell you something if you're familiar with the Rampart scandals where more than 70 police officers were implicated in misconduct. I'm sure most of their cases made for lame movies, but not this one created by Oren Moverman and James Ellroy. For instance, Dave's super secret police nickname is "Date Rape Dave," for when he allegedly killed a date rapist (which was undergoing thorough investigation from his department). Although he never rapes anyone in the film, it still seems an appropriate name for this total scumbag. He has two children from two sisters, all of whom hate him; he lures women into his bed by saying they're the "most beautiful woman [he's] ever seen…in this bar;" and he claims to hate all people equally when anyone calls him racist. In short, he's totally awesome and terrifying and is here to serve and protect us.
The film is less of a plot-driven piece, since all you're supposed to focus on is how wily Dave Brown is. Somehow Dave gets away with saying anything to anyone, like telling Ice Cube that the only reason he was called in to investigate his case was because "I'm controversial and your ancestors were stolen from Africa." Harrelson delivers lines like that with such ease that you'll easily forget he ever played anyone charming or sweet many moons ago (farewell, Woody from Cheers). It's like how Clint Eastwood's character from Gran Torino was when he was younger, with a dash of Vic Mackey from The Shield and the cop who beat up Rodney King. Yikes.
Rampart gives audiences all of the standard crooked-cop moments, like lawyers meetings and chats with the department heads, which is where it's at its least interesting. There are also some out of place editing choices at the S&M club that feel thrown in just to keep the piece interesting. However, at all times, the character and dialog is so strong and cocksure that you want to keep watching just to see what's going to come out of Dave Brown's mouth. Harrelson completely commits to being this horrible, paranoid man who can do nothing but be confrontational in a uniform. I hope it's more fiction than reality.