The LAPD doesn’t get the easiest of rides from its local film studios. Rarely is there a film lauding it as the saviour of the American people; usually quite the opposite. Rampart takes this to a whole new level.
Woody Harrelson’s David Douglas Brown is as corrupt as they come, extorting money from, and dishing out beatings to, anyone who strays close enough. He gets away with it by being smarter than the average grunt: he can reel off dates, figures and – unsurprisingly – lawsuits brought against the LAPD at will (and if he can’t, he has a habit of making them up).
It all starts to fall apart when he gets caught in a Rodney King-esque video brutalising a suspect. In a bid to hang onto his job, and pay for his lawyer, he steps up his criminal enterprises and ends up pulling the wrath of the entire country down onto his head. Harrelson looks every inch the square jawed, bullet headed, thug cop; an overgrown child, abusing every substance he can lay his hands on to make the pain of his life disappear. One brilliant scene shows him at a seedy club, jacked up on prescription medication (“something to keep me up and make it hard”) binging on drink, women and – most horrifically – food, until he vomits into the street.
Despite all this, he can still sleep with more women than you. Pretty girls fall over themselves for his boyish charm and John Wayne swagger. The whole thing, paradoxically, looks beautiful. The grainy film stock perfectly captures the sticky heat of the LA summer as Brown sweats out his latest binge.
He is no hero. Even anti-hero would be giving him too much credit. As his daughter tells him, he’s a racist, a bigot, a misanthrope, a chauvinistic and a homophobe. If it can be categorised, he hates it. He is beyond redemption – but he makes for compulsive viewing.
First published in City A.M.