Harrelson stars as Dave Brown, an LAPD cop from the notorious Rampart divison. Set in 1999, the film follows the exploits of Brown as he publicly abuses his power and authority as a policeman, at one point being caught on camera beating a criminal senseless.
The film opens with Harrelson teaching a new recruit the ropes. His apprentice is a young female cop, who he berates into submitting to his way of seeing the world. Brown’s world view is bleak: he hates all people equally, regardless of gender, race or sexuality – a fact he uses at times to defend himself somewhat comically.
His unorthodox homelife reflects his immoral conduct at work: Brown lives between the houses of his ex wives, who happen to be sisters, both with children by him. His daughters struggle to understand their relationship to each other (cousin/half-sister) whilst he continually attempts to persuade their mothers to sleep with him. Being unsuccessful, he embarks on nocturnal escapades, constantly seeking enough women and alcohol to sate his lust.
Harrelson is compelling as a man who is clearly struggling with his identity. On the one hand, Brown is a man disillusioned with the world, on a voyage of self destruction. But he is also a father, and really cares about his girls. This split personality is made apparent visually via his aviator sunglasses; when he wears them he is a cop, unfeeling and machine-like, but around his girls, they are off and he is vulnerable, and human.
There are some great turns from the supporting cast, including Robin Wright as sexual interest Linda and Ben Foster as the General. The medley of rogues he comes into contact with reflect his destructive personality, and contrast cameos Sigourney Weaver and Steve Bruscemi as figures of authority whom he is fighting against.
Rampart is an excellent piece of cinema with a couple of minor flaws: the club scene half way through could be cut, as it explicitly shows what has been far better implied subtly throughout, and the ending is disappointing. I won’t spoil it for any readers who have not seen the film, but bear in mind: the three part structure has worked for centuries for a reason!
All in all, Harrelson is the star of the film and carries the plot with such charisma that we are unwillingly rooting for him from the very beginning. A career defining role.