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'Rampart' review: Compelling character, murky movie

**1/2 (out of four)

L.A. cop Dave Brown’s (Woody Harrelson) bravado may have finally caught up with him.

Long believed to have murdered a known date rapist, Dave, whose colleagues consequently call him “Date Rape,” resorts to force when necessary and has a rocky relationship with his two daughters. (These scenes have far less heft than similar ones in “The Descendants.”) After he brutally beats a man whose car crashes into his, Dave’s career may be over—though he remains on the payroll for confusing reasons.

Much of “Rampart” feels jumbled, as director/co-writer Oren Moverman fails to establish the fluid storytelling of his beautifully sad “The Messenger.” Dave thinks he might be framed and wonders what his current lover’s (Robin Wright) agenda truly is, but you’ll wonder what’s going on and why a focused character study can’t stay on track.

Harrelson’s captivating performance makes “Rampart” worth it. Dave never passed the bar, but he knows how to use words to get what he wants—sometimes citing phony legal precedent to bluff his point. The guy’s a different man in and out of the house, and in Harrelson’s eyes is the realization that all the swagger and one-night stands in the world can’t make his family life any smoother.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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