Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Rampart Movie Poster Image
Dark, intense drama about violent, corrupt cop.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Focusing intensely on one character, the movie tells of a life gone wrong, with violent mistakes and destructive behavior adding up to loneliness and alienation. The movie's ambiguity yields no indication of redemption or consequences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character -- a violent, shady cop -- commits violence against those he believes are "bad guys," tries to steal money, drinks, smokes, and has sex with many women. Though his life becomes increasingly difficult and lonely and some kind of retribution seems to be around the corner (either good or bad), there are no real consequences here for his many wrongs.


A motorist accidentally crashes into a cop car; the cop then repeatedly kicks and pummels the man with his nightstick (the scene is captured on video and shown again on television). The same cop also (briefly) beats up a suspect in an interrogation room, shoots a man during a robbery, and bashes a man in a wheelchair with his car door. A man has a heart attack. The main character's nickname is "Date Rape Dave" due to the fact that he once killed a serial rapist. In addition to these incidents, there's a general feeling of simmering anger throughout the movie.


The main character has a busy sex life. He sleeps with three women during the course of the movie. Though there's no full-on graphic nudity (the main character's behind is briefly on view), the scenes are highly suggestive, with moaning sounds, naked legs, and toe sucking. It's also revealed that he has married two sisters, consecutively, and had a daughter with each of them; at the movie's start, all five of them are living together under the same roof, and the cop quietly asks each of the sisters for sex (and/or cuddling) while at the dinner table, though they both refuse.


Very strong, almost constant language, with just about every word imaginable: "f--k" and all its permutations, "s--t" and all its permutations, "c--k," "p---y," "t-ts," "d--k," "ass," "bitch," "twat," and "goddamn," plus the "N" word and several other racial slurs, like "wetback." The word "c--t" is shown as part of an art collage.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Though it seems to be the least of his troubles, the main character constantly smokes cigarettes and drinks a great deal. He drinks mostly martinis, at home and in bars, but by the movie's end, he drinks hard liquor in his squad car while on the job. He also shakes down a pharmacist in exchange for prescription drugs. He wakes up with a hangover in one scene, and his daughters discover him drunk in a hotel room. Also, a teen girl is seen smoking a cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rampart is a very intense character study about a corrupt Los Angeles police officer. When his beating of a motorist is caught on video, it's a catalyst for his long, slow downfall -- a process that includes several scenes of violence, with the cop beating up or shooting bad guys. He also sleeps with several women over the course of the movie (though no graphic nudity is shown), and language is very strong and almost constant. Plus, the main character drinks and smokes constantly and even illegally obtains prescription drugs from a pharmacy. Director Oren Moverman also helmed The Messenger, which was one of the most acclaimed movies of 2009, but Rampart is much more intense.

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What's the story?

Los Angeles cop "Date Rape Dave" Brown (Woody Harrelson) lives with an ambiguous mark on his record: the slaying of a serial rapist. Now, in 1999, two more incidents happen in rapid succession. First, he's captured on video beating a motorist who crashed into his squad car. And later, when he tries to profit from a dirty card game, Dave gets involved in a robbery and shoots and kills a man. During the subsequent investigation, he tries to hang onto his family, especially his two daughters. But he also tries to lose himself in anonymous sex, alcohol, smoking, and drugs. Is there any hope for Dave, or is he lost?

Is it any good?

Moverman's movie is the opposite of its lead character: sober and serious, and with an eye on some kind of social commentary. Moreover, since every scene is intently focused on the main character, the supporting characters -- and the amazing actors who play them -- never get a chance to shine. But Harrelson is given a great challenge, and he more than rises to the occasion. And the screenplay, co-written by Moverman and novelist James Ellroy, often has an appealingly poetic rhythm.

In 2009, Oren Moverman made his directorial debut with the surprisingly subtle, intelligent, and graceful The Messenger. RAMPART reunites him with his two stars from that film -- Woody Harrelson in the lead and Ben Foster in a smaller role -- but the result is a good deal heavier. Looking at this study of a dirty cop, it's hard not to think of the two great Bad Lieutenant films -- Abel Ferrara's 1992 release and Werner Herzog's 2009 version -- and how they were anguished, operatic, and completely loony.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Rampart's violence. Every time the main character does something violent, he finds a way to justify it. Is there such a thing as justified violence? Does the main character's violence ever contribute to anything good?

  • Though the movie shows very little nudity, there are a lot of sexual situations. What's the difference between nudity and a sexual situation? Do intimacy or trust enter into this equation? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values on these topics.

  • The character drinks a lot of alcohol. Are the consequences of his drinking realistic?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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