“Rampart” refers to the name of the police station in Los Angeles , where Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) still worked in 1999. He was kind of the last of a dying breed: a tough-guy cop, cigarette constantly dangling out of his mouth, cruising alone in a bad neighborhood, but unafraid to get out of his car and enforce his own kind of law. He used threats, intimidations, physical force if necessary, but nobody was going to bully him, or ignore him, or refuse to answer his questions respectfully. If someone needed some sense beat into them, well, he’d be happy to oblige. Their choice.
Yes, Dave Brown is sort of a living anachronism, a dinosaur, the last of the Mohicans, an old school spit-and-swagger beat cop who’s self-authenticated, self-actualized, extremely independent, and lives by his own counsel. A cowboy toward the end of his last trail ride, except he doesn’t seem to understand that the range has changed.
They call him “Date Rape Dave” because he’s rumored to have killed a guy accused of date rape, though he alternately claims that was never proven, and silently accepts the moniker, because he thinks it means people respect him and won’t mess with him. He has a very strange home life: not one, but two exes, who are sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), and he’s had a daughter by both of them, so his children are---what, half-sisters and also cousins? Well, Dave Brown doesn’t know any bible verses, but if he did, he’d realize that Jacob, also, married two sisters, and things weren’t always lovey-dovey in that household, either. Especially when you include their maids that he also impregnated. Dave Brown hasn’t fathered any more children, that he knows of, but because of his standing estrangement from the sisters, who, of course, have teamed up against him, he’s unafraid to explore sexual liaisons with other willing adventurers, who seem just as eager for a casual, calloused, unfeeling physical encounter as he is. Dave doesn’t understand why he can’t hang around the house, even after he’s been told to leave. He figures it’s still his family, whether they accept him as such or not. And once he’s made up his mind, he’s not easily persuaded otherwise.
It’s not surprising that Dave finds himself in trouble with the “powers that be” over his behavior on patrol. It seems someone ran into his squad car---we don’t know if it was accidental or not, but the tape of his beating of the other driver went viral, and the department is trying to save face by going after him. Desperate for funds to pay his attorneys, Dave, through an informant, finds a clandestine high-stakes card game with some ready cash available, but someone else had the same idea, and when that gambit goes bad, there seems to be no way out for him. By this time even his daughters are scared of him. In some anonymous hotel room, he ponders what few options are left to him, still thinking of himself as the one who didn’t do anything except be a good cop. And whose side are those other people on, anyway?
Woody Harrelson is memorable in this role, because it seems to fit his lean, spare, glowering persona. There are a number of good secondary performances (Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Ben Foster) to contrast with his glaring visage and his iconoclastic imperviousness. But he’s not a character you would recommend to the Youth Sunday School class.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas