Oren Moverman was clever enough to cast his The Messenger star Woody Harrelson in Rampart: a character study that seems more obsessed with turning Woody's character into an iconic movie villain, than to actually study his character...
Set in 1999, just after the Rampart controversy sent the LAPD down a hole, the film has Harrelson play Dave Brown; a corrupt cop who has his way regardless of who he has to step on. This makes him a true movie monster and presents Harrelson with the difficult task of adding a human layer to a character that could easily become caricature. This he does beautifully; whether he's sucking on a woman's foot, beating a handicapped man or stealing from thieves, he adds a certain something that gives us a better idea of who this man might be and why he's struggling so much to preserve his decadent lifestyle.
What he doesn't give us, and this might be the screenplay's fault, is a look at what might've turned him into such a despicable creature. It's obviously not necessary to have something like this spelled out to you in a movie, but every character in Rampart feels like it was created specifically for the scenes they're in.
Woody does his best to elevate the movie from being a scenery-chewing fest but the truth is that all the rage in Dave results more frustrating than compelling.
Clooney stars as Mike Morris, a Democratic candidate in the middle of a primary election that could have him become the next presidential candidate. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, his loyal and cinematically idealistic junior campaign manager. When Meyers learns that Morris has a dark secret involving - of all things - an intern (played by Evan Rachel Wood) he has to decide whether to be loyal to his employer or to his morality. Which one wins isn't really important as much as it is to see Clooney execute a fine campaign ad for himself by reminding us that he will be the kind of man who, as his character says, believes in the religion of the US constitution.
By making his "villain" a Democrat, Clooney reassures us that no political affiliations will stand in the way of the common good and it's obvious that he feels best identified with Meyers (if he'd been younger he probably would've played him). Even if the film is extremely dull, Clooney has some truly inspired directorial moments (stylistic bookends, clever visual tricks, superb casting, you must see Marisa Tomei giving a delicious star turn here!) but more often than not he foregoes them to chase clichés that would work best in the insipid All the King's Men remake from a few years back, too bad he let his political interest come between him and the religion of filmmaking.
The Ides of March **