While Oren Moverman’s Rampart is a heavily flawed pieces, it’s use of camerawork as a means to convey a commentary on surveillance culture is certainly intriguing. Through means of pacing and the cut, Moverman’s eye provides an immediate and crushing level of immersion in to a topic that has so often faced the Hollywood rundown.
Be it in the sequences in which a lone corrupt police officer stands with his back to the camera and framed by the tall Los Angeleno palm trees so often associated with the glamour of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, or the purposefully out-of-focus, off-kilter charting of a pharmacy-set bribery, Rampart is one of the years most exciting visual works. While the CCTV as narrative device has been utilised to mainstream success in recent years with Paramount’s Paranormal Activity features, and has even featured something of a creative renaissance this year already thanks to the astutely dramatised efforts in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, Rampart takes the merging of documentary aesthetics with fiction narrative to a different level of viewer involvement.
Rampart sees Israeli filmmaker Moverman reunited with his The Messenger lead Woody Harrelson, with the resulting performance one that is being mooted for plaudits come awards season. While the performance is somewhat effective, it’s by no means the “return to form” that so many of the mainstream press seem desperate to label it for Harrelson (an actor who has been a reliable presence since 2007’s wondrous one-two of The Walker and No Country For Old Men), it is certainly memorable. Harrelson is Dave Brown, as average a name if ever there was one, for a man whose internal conflicts are anything but. For Dave Brown was involved in the Rampart scandals of the 1990’s, in which a whole police division ran rife with corruption, and Dave Brown is now dealing with the after effects. The biggest issue with the plight of Dave Brown comes down to the fact that his actions were wholly deplorable, yet the screenwriters (and director) don’t really seem well equipped enough to portray this quite as well as a creative team like the Coen Brothers, or the exemplorary-when-it-comes-to-this-kind-of-thing Paul Schrader. Which leads me to my point, and the whole function of this article; while the film suffers thematically, or at least in terms of conveying said themes, from an aesthetic perspective it is a wonder.
There is a sequence at the end of the first act of Rampart in which the surveillance infused cinematography reaches an apex, as our protagonist is placed within a situation in which he is under complete duress. Being pressed by a prosecuting lawyer (a brief but memorable Steve Buscemi), Harrelson and co. are framed by a rapidly panning camera, mimicking the manner in which a surveillance camera might watch over its subject, scanning the figures in the room, albeit at such a rapid speed that it’s never given the opportunity to cast true judgment. This scene aside, the film itself is very much the “Woody Show”. Harrelson features in every sequence, yet thanks the muddled manner in which the situation is portrayed we never actually fully get a feel for the character. Perhaps this is down to the manner in which his David Brown is dehumanised, if not wholly demonised (in keeping with the work of screenwriter James Ellroy). Either way, the voyeuristic approach, reminiscent of such third person perspective television shows as mid-1990’s phenomenon Cops, is maintained throughout, and to great effect.