Oren Moverman quickly follows up his impressive 2009 directorial debut The Messenger with a gritty but inscrutable drama about a tough LAPD officer (Woody Harrelson, whose costarring role in The Messenger earned him an Oscar nod) who, in the middle of the notorious 1999 Rampart division scandal - in which several cops in the anti-gang unit were busted for misconduct - gets into deep trouble through his own misdeeds.
You can probably thank eccentric writer James Ellroy for the script's more bizarre qualities, which he co-wrote with Moverman. Harrelson's dialogue is filled with ridiculously florid prose, and although the effect isn't pretentious, it does seem to serve only to remind us that his character is eccentric. Add to that a superhuman smoking habit, an apparent inability to eat anything whatsoever, and his unique living situation, where he owns a house next door to two sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) who are both his ex-wives.
Harrelson's character is completely dominated by these no-nonsense females (including his two adolescent daughters) at "home", yet when he goes out philandering, he's attracted to equally independent-minded women. It's an interesting contrast to his bullet-headed demeanor and unapologetic attitude about his violent past with perpetrators, including a serial date rapist whom he had killed several years earlier.
It's hard to put all the pieces together in Rampart, either from a logical or an emotional standpoint. It's a decidedly odd film, intriguing but somehow unengaging, not unlike those other bent dramas about corrupt cops, Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant and Werner Herzog's in-name-only sequel Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. Though it's more oblique than outrageous, I think Rampart will gain a cult audience as well. But for me, while I found it interesting, I couldn't connect with it.