It’s a dangerous assumption to say that good performances make good movies. True, they do enhance the experience of watching what could have otherwise been absolute trash, but unless a story is worth telling, the performances could be as amazing as you’d like, but they still won’t be enough to turn a bad movie good.
In 2009, Woody Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for The Messenger, a story about a Casualty Notification Officer played by Ben Foster who becomes involved with a widow after telling her that her husband has died. Written and directed by Oren Movermen, the film garnered two Oscar nods, one for Harrelson’s performance, the other for the film’s screenplay. The Messenger is a great movie that showcases the talents of both its cast and its crew, making it fully deserving of its two nominations. Director Oren Movermen’s follow up film, Rampart, which also stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, is a case of pretentious film-making at its worst.
Rampart follows officer David Douglas Brown, one of the last crooked cops on the force. After a criminal crashes his car into Brown’s squad vehicle, and attempting to flee the scene after assaulting Brown, he beats the man halfway to death in an act of self-defense. A hidden camera captures the entire ordeal on tape, and within hours, it’s on the news for everybody to see. The incident becomes a national issue, forcing Brown to re-evaluate his entire life and struggle to support his family during this rough time.
Both the plot and cast of Rampart make it seems like a surefire hit, but the film is bogged down by an aimless script, and often pointless direction by Oren Movermen that aims to enhance the imagery. Instead, it ends up distracting the viewer from the thin shreds of a story being told. Woody Harrelson is fantastic as promised, as is the rest of the cast, but everything else just…isn’t. I often found myself fighting to stay awake, staring at my clock, fidgeting, and constantly checking how long the film had been going for.
I’ve seen a lot of cop dramas in my day, and at first glance this seems like it might take a different turn, maybe even striving for a Bad Lieutenant cult status, but it’s that dire need for acceptance in a world of gritty police dramas that drives Rampart‘s plot into the ground, then back up for air, then right back into the ground. Also, the casting of talented A-listers in almost every role gives the film a really fabricated feel that could have been completely erased had the casting directors gone for the “unknown and talented” actors. Still, by the time I had made it to critiquing the casting, I was already so sick of the damn thing I didn’t even care, not a good trait to have if you’re a movie of any genre.