Film: Brixton Blog’s Thursday round-up

It’s a busy week of new releases at Brixton’s Ritzy cinema this week, featuring a veritable cross-section of dirty cops, duplicitous CIA agents and… sprightly pensioners.

Woody Harrelson gives a stunning performance as 'beyond-dirty' cop Dave Brown in Rampart

By Ashley Clark

By far the most intriguing new release on offer this week is thriller Rampart, starring a sinewy, intimidating Woody Harrelson as beyond-dirty L.A. cop Dave Brown. Oren Moverman’s film marks the second collaboration between director and star following last year’s underrated The Messenger, and it’s a curious, uneven affair from start to finish. Part character study of a depraved, dangerous individual, part-police corruption thriller, it takes its subject matter from the real life Rampart scandal which scarred the LAPD’s reputation in the 90s.

Despite Harrelson’s extraordinarily unsettling performance, the film is hampered by a horribly unfocused narrative, and a director determined to show off his bag of visual tricks at the expense of anything approaching a consistent tone. In interviews Moverman has pointed to fundamental disagreements with co-writer James Ellroy over the source material, and this authorial schism bleeds through in the finished product; it feels like about three different films squashed together. The intermittent presence of a starry supporting cast (including Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver to name but a few) is often distracting rather than compelling, but Rampart’s worth your time for Harrelson’s stunning performance alone.

Denzel Washington in Safehouse

Another new thriller, though considerably less left-field in tone and execution than Rampart, is Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s bombastic Safe House (disappointingly not an episode of House set in a Peckham school). Starring the ever-charismatic Denzel Washington as rogue CIA man Tobin Frost opposite Ryan Reynolds’ greenhorn agent, it’s as formulaic as big budget Hollywood actioners come, and deeply indebted to the turbo-charged oeuvre of Tony Scott. Despite the pervasive feeling that we’ve seen it all before, there are some nice supporting turns (especially from Irishmen abroad Brendan Gleeson and Liam Cunningham), pleasingly exotic locations, and a string of competently directed action sequences. Safe House is perhaps the very embodiment of “popcorn cinema”; switch your brain off at the door and you won’t be too disappointed, and bring some earplugs too – it’s bloody loud.

Finally, a collection of old English dogs have a crack at some new tricks in an Indian hotel in John Madden’s rather irritatingly titled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The buzz is that this is a gentle, uplifting yarn which tips a hat to Paul Scott’s Raj Trilogy and features a grand collection of British thesps (Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson et al.) if not at the top of their game, then at least earning their corn. Far be it from me to second-guess demographics, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this one went down rather better on the over-50s circuit. Oh, and I wouldn’t go into it expecting lacerating, intellectually devastating post-colonial insight either.

Ashley Clark runs the film blog Permanent Plastic Helmet. You can follow it on Twitter @PPlasticHelmet and/or him @_ash_clark.

All films showing at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton Oval. Book tickets here.