By Clint Morris
Drugs, were told, aren’t good. Heck, we know they’re not. My best friend died thanks to one too many party pills. And an aunt has nothing good to say about the night she made out with one too many small white tablets, because, well, she can’t, she’s dead. And I know many will gladly spit in the direction of a syringe disposal unit if given the chance. Those things destroy lives.
Those that do manage to kick the bad stuff and remain off it find a longer life and a clear mind the greatest of gods rewards. In Hollywood, the almighty one goes one step further – he not only gives rehabilated actors a new lease on life, but he helps get their careers back on track.
From Tim Allen to Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams, Richard Deeyfuss, Dennis Hopper and Robert Downey Jr, the angels of cinema always seem to be on the lookout for someone whose bottle and tablet screwed careers they can fix. And fix they do – some, like Downey and Williams, swap booze for box-office superstardom. And don’t look back. Being famous suddenly beats being fucked up. And so it should.
Woody Harrelson has been a pet project of the winged-fixers for a few years now. On and off the hard stuff for years, a newly clean Harrelson has made an auspicious comeback in recent years. Being quite older now, he can no longer jump like the White Man he was in 1992, but by George Mr Harrelson can act. Better than ever.
The no-longer inebriated Harrelson’s string of good luck, which begun with “No Country for Old Men” and continued on through the likes of “Zombieland” and “The Messenger”, culminates with a hardcore, unforgettable turn as a bent LA copper in the “Bad Lieutenant”-esque “Rampart”.
Not an unfamiliar tale by any means (the aforesaid Abel Ferrara film being it’s closest cousin), “Rampart” is a film that’s relying on it’s performances to engage the viewer. And engage Mr Harrelson does in one of the most arresting performances of his career. Harrelson is so good in the role of a despicable, unlikable, bigot, womanizer misanthrope cop that you start feeling for his broken tin man, hoping, maybe, there’s some heart or humanity behind that tough, ugly exterior. And there is, but is there enough in there worth saving?
It’s 1999. Harrelson plays Dave Brown, a rebel cop without a good word to say about anyone. He’s the guy that’s happy to offload his gun. He’s the guy that does sleep at night after doing so. He’s also not ashamed to admit he hates certain races, religions and people. Brown’s world is crashing down around him though; at work, he’s now under the microscope due to some icky accusations, and at home, he’s struggling to keep his family together. They, like his superiors, are tired of Brown’s behaviour.
Director Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) – who co-wrote the script with legendary crime author James Ellroy – also helps us develop sympathy for the scoundrel by setting the film in Los Angeles, which helps the audience understand just how officer got how he’s gotten. A cop working the beat in one of the toughest map spots on a GPS is going to be affected by the job, after all. Moverman doesn’t push that down our throats though or ask us to forgive the brash and brutal actions of our lead, he simply lets the character do his thing.. And let’s the audience pass judgement.
Much like Keitel’s performance in “Bad Lieutenant” (even to a lesser extent, and I know it sounds hokey but there’s moments in this that reminded me of it, Bruce Willis’s turn in “Last Boy Scout”), Harrelson is so good at making us feel a little unsure about those we trust with our cities, crimes and lives. And coupled with the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, vet Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi and Robin Wright Penn, Cheers’ dorkiest bartender is forced to bring out the good stuff.
Great to see Harrelson not only clean and sober but that kicking those bad habits lead to a remarkable career turnaround.