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Rampart

My favorite performance of 2011 wasn’t viewed until late May of 2012.  Sometimes the Academy Awards completely overlook the best work of the year. Thankfully, the Independent Spirit Awards recognized Woody Harrelson’s brilliant performance and nominated him for Best Male Lead(both prizes, btw, went to Jean Dujardin of “The Artist”, along with the BAFTA and the Golden Globe). Woody was nominated by Oscar for the previous film of Oren Moverman(best supporting actor for 2009’s “The Messenger”), but the extremely limited release of “Rampart” may have screwed him this time around. Harrelson’s beautifully lived-in creation of corrupt cop Dave Brown is a monster achievement. I’ve never seen him better.               It’s a mistake to compare this character to the corrupt officer of the two celebrated “Bad Lieutenant” features of the last twenty years(Ferrara/Keitel or Herzog/Cage—take your pick), but I guess the desire to recall them is unavoidable. Dave Brown isn’t crazy like that character—he’s just a vile, violent, racist, drunken drug addict. But Harrelson never goes overboard, and consistently manages to portray Officer Brown as a real person. He’s magnetic enough to be living with and maintaining relationships with TWO ex-wives(solid stuff from Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon)under one roof, and occasionally even has sexual relations with them(separately, of course…they are actual sisters, after-all). When the women start tiring of his addictive antics and turning down his advances, Dave is more than ready to head to the local pub and troll for a one-night-stand(the gorgeous and talented Audra McDonald and Robin Wright among them…pretty good scores for a scumbag!). He also has two daughters(one from each sister-wife), and it’s heartbreaking when they turn against him too—even though he’s obviously one of the worst fathers imaginable. Again this pays tribute to Woody’s characterization—he always keeps Dave real, which gives the scene some extra punch when his younger, more sensitive daughter finally acknowledges that Daddy’s not such a good guy. I’m guessing that Officer Dave Brown is a composite penned to represent the officers involved in the actual Rampart scandal of Los Angeles of the late 1990’s. Celebrated author and screenwriter James Ellroy is totally in his comfort zone here and organizes all of his devices wonderfully. With the level of brutality and consistency of misconduct Officer Brown commits, this perf could have easily gone off-the-rails…but Woody keeps him reined in. This is real acting folks, not to be confused with skilled impersonations of historical figures like Margaret Thatcher(sorry to throw you under the bus again, Meryl!). Add a sterling supporting cast that includes not only the previously noted actresses who embody his love/sex interests, but fellow former Oscar nominees Ned Beatty and Sigourney Weaver. Round it out with the great Steve Buscemi and Harrelson’s “The Messenger” partner, Ben Foster(who also co-produced), and you’ve happened upon a dream roster of master thespians.               Not quite certain what those complaining about the final scene were looking for. There were only so many avenues Ellroy and Moverman could have taken with this, and I’m fine with that ending shot. Besides, I think it’s pretty obvious how Officer Brown’s life and career are going to play out—so, what more do people need? This is dark, potent film-making, with plentiful profanity, violence and sexual situations. Bummed that I didn’t see it before compiling my Top Ten from last year—it easily would have merited consideration. And Harrelson exhibits a tour-de-force.      Grade:  A-

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