LAPD officer Dave Brown is visited in his motel room by his daughters on the pretense of bringing him some clothes. He understands that what they really want is to know if all the things said about him are true. He tells them, “I never hurt any good people.” His oldest daughter responds, “What about us?”
Rampart is the story of a bad cop. Set in 1999, this is a fictitious account of a patrol officer who works out of Rampart Division, which was the site of the infamous Rampart Scandal involving anti-gang officers. Brown is not a part of that group, but he certainly has a very different mindset than we may want in our police officers. He bemoans what the police have become. He says, “This used to be a glorious soldiers’ department.” He frequently responds with violence to the events around him.
He has a history of trouble, but the event that triggers his problems in the film is being caught on camera beating someone who ran into his cruiser. Even when the man is defenseless, he continues to beat him. He wonders if perhaps he’s been set up to take the heat off the scandal that’s filling the papers. Soon, he is involved in a shooting of a robbery suspect—a suspect who robbed a poker game he planned on robbing. When talking to department officials about the event, he knows all the right terminology to manipulate the discussion. He believes he can beat the system. Perhaps there is some basis for that belief. There were rumors that years earlier he killed a serial rapist. He neither admits nor denies it, but he certainly makes a case for the necessity of the killing, even if he doesn’t consider how that act may have had wider implications.
His difficulties are not limited to his professional life. He is trying to maintain a strange family relationship with his two ex-wives (who are also sisters) and daughters. He lives in a unit near them and they all gather for dinner. He has serious boundary issues with them—just as he has boundary issues with the law and violence. He drinks to excess. He is racist, misogynistic, and homophobic.
As more and more questions are raised about his actions and the inconsistencies of accounts, it becomes clear that he won’t have an easy way out. His ex-wives sell the property they all live on, leaving him homeless. What few friends he has he alienates. He becomes more and more paranoid.
While there are wonderful performances here, viewers may find themselves dissatisfied with the experience. What makes this film so hard to watch is that we aren’t offered characters we can relate to or even like. This is a world of dark characters with dark motives. There is no sense of affection in relationship—only mutual exploitation. It doesn’t seem to matter that there is likely no chance of redemption for Brown or anyone else, because we’ve seen nothing to make us care for them.