The Los Angeles of classic detective fiction and film noir was a city of mystery and glamour and in the midst of transforming itself into a modern Metropolis. New auteur on the block Oren Moverman takes us to a 90’s LA that’s meaner, dirtier, nastier than we’ve seen before and also into the singular world of LAPD Police Detective Dave Brown (Harrelson). Anybody expecting an explosive police thriller full of intrigue, chases and shootouts will be disappointed. Instead you’ll find an unflinching character study of a soul in torment lashing out at a world he has no place in.
Brown is no Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle either – unlike his peers in the pantheon of screen anti-hero cops, Brown isn’t obsessed with right or wrong but as a Vietnam vet he has just simply swapped his military fatigues for police blues and treats his beat as just another tour of duty. Moverman’s debut film The Messanger was a drama about casulty notification teams – soldiers who turn up in uniform at the doors of military famillies to inform them that their loved ones have died in active service. The film was a commercial blip but it really won over the critics and earned two Oscar nominations. If Moverman’s debut went for the heartstrings, his sophmore effort goes for the jugular.
This movie really revels in the dark, tormented psychology of its main character and his string of complicated and damaged relationships which has quite rightly garnered Harrelson a lot of attention but the film itself never really talks about the Rampart scandal per se but the many illegal scrapes Officier Brown finds himself in but only roughly. This is more like a ring side seat into a man’s moral fall from disgrace. There’s no great arc to his character, there’s not even the satisfaction of solving a mystery – this totally zapped any dramatic focus to the film and just made it feel like one big ride-along where anything can happen.