Woody Harrelson can play a zombie slayer, a porn king or a clueless barkeep.
The actor's latter performance on the NBC show "Cheers" hardly prepared us for the complex characters lurking within him. Harrelson calls his latest role, "Date Rape" Dave Brown in "Rampart," the best ever offered to him.
A second look at the film, available today on Blu-ray, DVD and Video on Demand and Pay Per View platforms for $4.99 SD and $5.99 HD, affirms Harrelson's assessment.
He embraces every burned out cop cliche to date, but there's nothing stale about Dave Brown. He's a prototypical law-breaking cop who believes he's on the right side of justice. His justice doesn't measure up to the model most people salute, but he doesn't seem to care.
"Everything you learned in the academy is bullshit,” he tells a new recruit, as if he was able to rewrite the rules every time he puts on his officer blues.
When a car slams into his police cruiser, he proceeds to beat the tar out of the driver. The incident is caught on tape, and Dave's police career starts a steady downhill slide. But this slow-motion car wreck was a long time coming. And it's nearly as hideous as his personal life. He lives with his ex and her sister, and he's had relations with both. Yet he lords over this extended "family" as if he were Ward Cleaver doling out homespun, '50s era common sense.
Director Owen Moverman ("The Messenger") doesn't rely on the usual visual tics to create a cop on the edge saga. Instead, he doubles down with a great cast (Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Robin Wright and Ned Beatty) and lets them support and stagger Dave Brown until the cop is all but begging to be counted out.
Harrelson's towering achievement here is making us care about Dave, a character who radiates smug superiority even while wrecking the lives of those he purports to love. But even we have a breaking point, and the last third of "Rampart" is so depressing, so bleak, that even Harrelson's bravura turn recoils on us.
The film's main featurette allows the principal characters to reflect on the dark film as well as Dave Brown's inevitable downfall.
“The pigeons are coming home to roost,” co-star Cynthia Nixon says.
Harrelson makes that undeniable outcome both compelling and heartbreaking ... to a point.