Woody Harrelson may well be in line for an Oscar nomination for this film, directed by Oren Moverman who made The Messenger. In that film, Harrelson was a soldier, here he's a cop. An unreconstructed racist, sexist cop who believes in doing things his way, and getting up everyone's nose in the process.
The film is set in LA a little more than 10 years ago. Dave Brown (Harrelson) is an old fashioned not-by-the-book cop who follows his own rules. He's always in trouble, whether in his personal or work life. He has two children with two sisters who live next door to each other and they're all fed up with him. He's been filmed kicking someone, so he's in trouble with his boss, and with Sigourney Weaver. He picks up Robin Wright in a bar, and that leads to trouble. He's a one man disaster area.
The film's strength is also its weakness. Woody Harrelson is unstoppably watchable from start to finish, and despite the plethora of great supporting actors, it is essentially his film. As scripted by James Ellroy, Brown is as self-destructive as he is self-confident (outwardly). He knows everyone's out to get him, and that sooner or later he'll be dragged down, but he thinks of himself as a lone wolf, to whom normal conditions don't apply. But he also has an addictive personality, whether for drugs, women or violence. The sum of all this is that he dominates the film to such an extent that he becomes the film. Not the story, not his relationship with other people, but him, and the spiral of screwups that lead him to where he always new he was headed.
I was most impressed with the film, especially for the first hour or so. But it began to take its toll on me. And while I wasn't looking for redemption or feelgood endings, I was left feeling stranded by the time it was all over, having accompanied someone on a dark journey and not sure if I really wanted to go there. But I won't be surprised if that cheeky Woody grin doesn't show up some time in early March in front of millions, thanking everyone. And who's to say he doesn't deserve it?
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