Five Questions with Rampart Co-Writer/Director Oren Moverman
The Rampart scandal, which caused a huge black eye for the LAPD in the ’90s, has been sensationalized on TV shows like The Shield and movies like Training Day, but if The Messenger showed us anything it’s that Oren Moverman is not interested in embellishing anything in his films, so his latest, Rampart, should be no exception. For the film he reteams with The Messenger star Woody Harrelson who plays a corrupt LAPD cop who must come to terms that with the scandal the fun is now over. And if having Moverman and Harrelson making a film together again isn’t exciting enough, try this on for size: Moverman shares screenwriting credit with legendary L.A. pulp novelist James Ellroy.
Filmmaker: Tell us a little about what your film is about?
Moverman: Rampart is the story of Dave Brown, a dirty LAPD senior lead officer who refuses to change his cowboy ways around the time of the Rampart scandal (1999) in Los Angeles when police officers were accused of serious crimes and change was inevitable. The film is an interior, strict point-of-view exploration of Brown’s relationships with his daughters, colleagues and enemies as the sins of his past actions start catching up with him and he is forced to face himself in the mirror.
Filmmaker: What’s the most shocking thing you learned about the Rampart corruption scandal?
Moverman: Sadly, there is very little left that is shocking about the Rampart scandal. We have grown used to these outrageous stories, some true some false, but all on record and therefore a reality. A lot of people were hurt, families were ripped apart, friends were at each other’s throats. Lies were told on all sides. Crimes were committed. Race relations heated up. Communities took up arms. What interested me most about looking at one character who lives in the world of the scandal is exploring male behavior, behavior that is infused with a sense of power and sexuality and superiority, and then picking it apart and watching the consequences unfold with compassion and humanity. It’s quite a challenge. But the scandal itself is the backdrop to Brown’s story. The film about the actual Rampart scandal, looking at it from all painful sides, has yet to be made.
Filmmaker: Did you always have Woody Harrelson in mind to play the lead role?
Moverman: When I came on board to direct I had only one actor in mind for Dave Brown: Woody Harrleson. He has the ability to explore masculinity on so many levels, he has so many layers as a theater, film and television actor and he has so much depth as a man, a father , a husband, an actor, an activist, a goddamn Vegan, that I never really thought of anyone but him. Of course, it helped that I knew him from The Messenger and that we spent so much time together on the road that we developed our own language. I wanted to keep our dialogue going and find new ways of expressing it.
Filmmaker: James Ellroy shares a screenwriting credit with you. Explain how you worked with him to create the screenplay. Was it a collaborative process?
Moverman: James Ellroy wrote the original script and I did the subsequent rewrites. From the beginning, it was going to be an Ellroy film, that’s what excited me about it. But I felt that the interior lives of his characters were more interesting in this piece than any actual plot or crime narrative. I loved the characters he created and I thought we could have a film that pays homage to crime films, that examines the language of an LAPD movie, and still make it an entertaining drama that ultimately pays more attention to the human consequences of interaction rather than pure action. I felt that the movie was as much about a certain kind of powerful feminine spirit taking over as it was about Brown’s behavior and I thought it would be interesting to shape so much of it in the world of women on an emotional level, which was really just bolstering Ellroy’s approach which treated the movie as a “goodbye to the women.” I think the script is a perfect combination of our separate interests and different philosophies, it created a character full of contradictions and those contradictions — the way they ultimately push him into a downward spiral — give the film a life worth following. The film spirals with him.
Filmmaker: What do you hope audiences will take away from your film?
Moverman: I hope audiences take away compassion from this film. Empathy, despite the challenges of feeling something for people who do bad things and pay the price for them. I hope audiences enjoy the contradictions and abstractions that are so much a part of a very modern (and some would say seductive) male persona — violence and charm, cruelty and humor, confusion and purpose, vulnerability and certainty, confidence and doubt. More than anything, I always hope audiences take some sort of love from the experience of watching a film and apply it to their lives. I know that sounds very soft and touchy for a film about a very macho guy, but, as I said — ride the contradictions and you’ll get something out of Rampart.