"Rampart" tells a familiar story with such visual punch and hustling energy that it comes close to feeling like a new kind of movie, though it's more just a tough gloss on American crime stories past.
"Rampart" doesn't tell a coherent story as much as swirl the drain with Dave, as his increasingly desperate efforts to save himself simply result in a cascade of self-inflicted wounds.
Much like Ellroy's noir classics The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid, Rampart is an imaginative work of historical crime fiction using invented characters to reanimate a specific time and place.
Harrelson makes Dave Brown fascinating even as writer-director Oren Moverman - who also made "The Messenger" - allows the film, from a James Ellroy screenplay, to become a sprawl.
"Rampart" patrols some familiar streets, but this jarringly intimate study of a dirty Los Angeles cop sliding, crazily, down the drain has a distinctive new-cliche smell, pungent and alive.
Brown is a sick man, but Harrelson makes him so interesting, so charismatic, so ... watchable, that you can't look away, even if his actions make you want to (and they will).
While the film is drenched in atmosphere and packs a verbal and visceral punch, its relentless downward spiral makes for an overdetermined, not entirely satisfying character study.
Using an improvisatory method built around Harrelson's fiery performance, Moverman -- showing incredible range in jagged contrast to the understatement of "The Messenger" -- foregrounds Date Rape Dave's commitment to a lost cause.