A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Woody Harrelson is leaner in "Rampart," the skin tight over the skull, the jawline defiant. His eyes are busy. He is a cop in the Los Angeles police district that became notorious in 1999 as a cesspool of corruption, but this man takes corruption with him wherever he goes. The movie is co-written by the unsurpassed crime writer James Ellroy, who no doubt knows enough stories about Rampart to write a dozen movies, but his inspiration here is to make this cop a stand-alone character study, isolated within himself. He doesn't require the reprehensible environment of Rampart. He's self-fueled.
Harrelson is an ideal actor for the role. Especially in tensely wound-up movies like this, he implies that he's looking at everything and then watching himself looking. His character, Dave Brown, has no moral center, but he has the survival instincts of a rat, and I say that with all due respect for rats. He always likes to know the way out of a tight corner. He knows an angle he can play or a squirm he can call on.
Why is he this way? That question helps explain why the movie is so absorbing, because there is no answer. "Rampart" lacks the usual plot engines behind crime films, in which motivation comes from money, lust or revenge. Brown behaves in this film primarily just to do bad things.
He reminds me of one of the most evil characters in American fiction, Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, a man who likes to torture and kill for no other reason than simply to cause pain. The Harrelson of "Rampart" could play Judge Holden, and not many actors could.