Co-written by James Ellroy, the self-styled ‘demon dog of American crime fiction’, Rampart (StudioCanal) follows a typically damaged Ellroy protagonist in the form of Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers) a boozy, racist cop with a pronounced violent streak.
Chain-smoking Brown cruises the streets of LA dispensing his own idiosyncratic brand of justice to those who he feels worthy of his attention. Frowned upon by his superiors, and viewed with suspicion by his two ex-wives – a pair of co-habiting sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon), both of whom have borne him a child – Brown’s awkward home life is as perplexing as his hanging-by-a-thread work life. However, Brown’s career hits a new low when he beats a black motorist senseless after an accidental traffic collision, courting yet more controversy for the already-notorious Rampart division. Bounced between disciplinary hearings, Brown takes solace with a string of women he picks up in bars, before going for broke and getting involved in a potentially deadly scam recommended by his former mentor.
Despite his stellar literary reputation, Ellroy’s flirtations with Hollywood have proven to be more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’, with the engrossing period piece LA Confidential his only stone-cold classic. Thematically, Rampart follows in the footsteps of previous Ellroy film projects such as Dark Blue (2002) and Street Kings (2008), both of which met with less than positive reviews. Despite a grimmer, more uncompromising feel than its predecessors, and a stand-out performance from the excellent Harrelson, Rampart’s meandering narrative detracts from Ellroy’s brutal, razor-sharp dialogue, and the film takes on an unfortunately dirge-like quality as it progresses.
Harrelson’s Dave Brown, nicknamed ‘Date Rape’ by his colleagues, and his own teenage daughter (on account of his rumoured execution of a rapist years earlier), is an astonishingly bleak protagonist, and easily eclipses Kurt Russell’s Eldon Perry (from Dark Blue) and Keanu Reeves’s Tom Ludlow (Street Kings), with his nihilistic disregard for common sense. Unfortunately, when the dust settles, Brown feels like a refugee from a better movie, with Rampart ultimately too awkward for its own good.
Filmed on location at a real Colombian military base situated 14,000 feet above sea level, The Squad (AKA El Paramo) (Momentum) follows the fortunes of an elite unit of soldiers who have been dispatched to investigate a remote military facility that has lost communications with headquarters. Fearing that the base has been taken over by enemy forces, the nine soldiers arrive to find the derelict-looking building seemingly deserted. However, once power has been restored to the outpost, the full horror of the situation is revealed – the place is littered with corpses, and the walls have been daubed with blood. Most troublingly of all, the soldiers discover a feral-looking woman buried alive behind one of the walls. The dead captain’s log reveals that she had been captured, and was being held on suspicion of being a guerrilla informant, but the men disagree on how to proceed, with already tense fault-lines developing into full-blown cracks as the mental disintegration begins…
According to US media reports The Squad has already been scooped up by producers for a remake, although, perversely enough, it is expected to be shot at the original Colombian location! Such news begs the question: ‘what’s the point?’, as, in truth, the original barely puts a foot wrong. First-time director Jaime Osorio Marquez confidently cranks up the feeling of dread as the movie unfolds, and his atmospheric, paranoia-drenched handling of the story is sure to win him plenty of admirers. Reminiscent of 2004’s cult Korean chiller R-Point, but arguably superior to the succession of military-themed horrors that followed in its wake, The Squad is another great addition to the Latin American scene. All in all, far too slick to remain under the radar for long.
Set on the eve of the first World War, A Dangerous Method (Lionsgate) examines the often-turbulent relationships between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender, Shame), the founder of analytical psychology, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises), the founder of psychoanalysis, and Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightley, Domino), initially a patient of Jung and later a physician in her own right. Inspired by real-life events, A Dangerous Method scrutinises this volatile blend of personalities, and the secrets that inform their behaviour. As the film progresses, the characters’ lives are complicated further by the presence of Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel, Mesrine), a debauched, cocaine-fuelled maverick psychoanalyst who is determined to probe Jung’s boundaries and help him shed his buttoned-up inhibitions.
David Cronenberg’s shift from grisly ‘body horror’ towards more psychological territory has been evident for many years, and it is easy to envisage A Dangerous Method as the culmination of his unconventional career trajectory. Unfortunately, despite its top-drawer cast and sporadically provocative subject matter, A Dangerous Method ultimately feels more like a sophisticated intellectual exercise rather than a fully formed film. Although all of the actors involved emerge with their reputations intact, and the resurgent Knightley is particularly memorable – in a sometimes shrill role that encourages her to outshine her esteemed colleagues Mortensen and Fassbender at every opportunity – Cronenberg’s latest effort ultimately lacks the striking visual imagery of his previous work. At the end of the day, would you rather watch Viggo Mortensen verbally jousting over methods of treatment, or indulging in a naked knife fight in a Russian sauna, a la Eastern Promises?! My point exactly!