The rotten cop flick has become a mini-genre of sorts, a subset of noir, going back at least to Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. As such Oren Moverman's portrait of the decline and fall of Dave "Date Rape" Brown (Woody Harrelson) of the LAPD can be seen as not derivative so much as a variation on a template. Brown earned his moniker for doing a Dirty Harry on a perp suspected of that crime, just one of many extralegal activities that culminate with him videotaped beating the crap out of an unresisting Latino motorist. It being the height of the 1999 Rampart scandal in which many of Brown's fellow officers were accused of similar excesses, he seems the perfect scapegoat.
>> READ: "Interview: Woody Harrelson cops a plea for Rampart" by Ed Symkus <<
Not that he's not deserving; he's a malignant, lost soul, a sun-drenched LA version of Bad Lieutenant. He starts out cocky and bullying, from ordering a female trainee to eat a side of fries she had discarded to third-degreeing a prisoner into revealing the location of a meth factory. He's not so confident when it comes to his odd ménage, however; he lives with two ex-wives, who are also sisters, and his two daughters, and is both nurtured and befuddled by the overload of estrogen. On the other hand, he takes too much to heart the cynical advice of his crapulous, macho mentor, a retired, corrupt cop played with delightful unctuousness by Ned Beatty.
Moverman employs a deceptively episodic narrative in unfolding his morality tale, the tragic arc suggested by mood and atmosphere, underscored by the searing sunshine, in which Brown at first appears intimidating in his black uniform, but later takes on the look of an ant under a magnifying glass before he squirms into dissipation and darkness. Making the most of Moverman's expert screenplay, Harrelson humanizes the beast, showing his haplessness before his daughters and ex-wives, and his wily impotence in dealing with department bureaucracy, despite his hilarious outpourings of inspired, prolix legalese.