dir. Oren Moverman
To call Dave Brown a dirty cop would be an insult to all those upstanding dirty cops whose reputations would be tarnished by association with Officer “Date Rape” Brown. About the nickname: back in the eighties, Brown, with premeditation, killed a man he believed to be a serial rapist. But hey, as we learned from Harry Callahan, it takes an unhinged rogue to bring down the truly dirty people out there. Unfortunately, Brown’s actions had unintended consequences that left an even greater trail of suffering in their wake. Not that Brown would care, however. Completely amoral, he lives by no other code than his own survival.
Taking place at the height of the Rampart scandal that engulfed the LAPD in the late nineties, the James Ellroy-scripted Rampart focuses on one corrupt cop not directly involved in the scandal. That Rampart was written by Ellroy was actually something of a surprise to me. No, Rampart doesn’t traffic in territory unfamiliar to Ellroy: indeed, LAPD corruption is Ellroy’s bread and butter, and the characters here—particularly Woody Harrelson’s Dave Brown—would not feel out of place in any of Ellroy’s other celebrated works. Rather, it was Rampart’s purposely unfocused narrative that flummoxed me.
James Ellroy, in his own words, is the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. Now for damn near anyone else to pose such bold a claim would be downright laughable; but, for better or worse, Ellroy’s got the chops to back up his tumescent ego. So it was rather surprising that with Rampart, Ellroy eschewed anything resembling a typical plot. Ellroy, so renowned for his intricate swiss watch plots, decided this time around to tell present the rambling tale of one crazed, selfish, misanthrope’s self-propelled journey into the abyss.
And the results are winning. Indeed, a traditional narrative would have actually failed this story. Brown, in addition to his many other faults, is a complete paranoiac: he sees conspiracies everywhere. As the hammer continues to fall on him, as he is brought to task for his multitude of crimes, he imagines himself the victim of one elaborate set-up. Perhaps Brown even sees himself as the central character in a typical Ellroy plot. What he fails to come to grips with, however, is the fact that everything is of his own making. The trap he finds himself in was one that he set years ago and that he continued to work toward.
And so, in lieu of a conclusion, Rampart leaves us with ellipsis. There is no traditional resolution to be had here; but we don’t need that: we know where this road leads.