“Rampart”: from Script to Screen

Woody Harrelson as Date-Rape Dave Brown

We’ve heard the stories about a screenplay going through a number of iterations before it reaches the screen, and Rampart is no different. However, the screenplay of Rampart only went through two iterations. The story was originally written and conceived by hard-boiled crime fiction storyteller, James Ellroy, and then re-written by writer/director Oren Moverman. I came into possession of the original screenplay by James Ellroy (meaning that I made a photocopy of it while working at a production company) and it’s a complex tale that Ellroy weaved, one that was difficult to follow because of the tremendous amount of legal proceedings and lawyer head-butting, but I can tell you that a lot of the story went M.I.A. between the Ellroy and Moverman versions of the script; some of the cut-backs for the best and some for the worse.

James Ellroy’s version of the script tells the story of Date-Rape Dave Brown, another one of Ellroy’s dirty cops, and his legal and police maneuvering to save his status as Rampart beat cop and “family man-of-the-house”. The year is 1999, and the rampart scandal of the Los Angeles Police Department is in full swing. It’s one giant clusterfuck for the LAPD and DA’s office and they have nowhere to hide from public scrutiny. They need a scapegoat, so they set-up Date-Rape Dave, a cop with an already tarnished reputation to take the fall. It’s a complex plot about a washed-up cop with a lawyer’s education and who should’ve been a lawyer, but didn’t pass the BAR exam, being operated and manipulated by lawyers of the DA’s office. As in any James Ellroy story, Date-Rape Dave uses strong-arm tactics to enforce the law and to ensure that he ends up on top. The major changes to Ellroy’s script is the excision of two dirty cops associated with the rampart scandal who are allegedly gang targets. Subtracting these two characters from the original script cut out an important supporting plot that gave Date-Rape Dave something to investigate and “to do” in the movie. Without this supporting plot, Date-Rape Dave has nothing “to do” except save his own ass and self-medicate himself into oblivion.

James Ellroy at the premiere of Rampart

Oren Moverman’s version of the script, which is what made it to the screen and is ultimately what we get to see, had some of the original script in it, but told in a way that was not clear. What I saw in Moverman’s film, devoid of the supporting plot, was a man out of control, on a downward descent to drug addiction and alcoholism, and on the verge of losing his family. It was heart-wrenching to watch, and I could sympathize with Date-Rape Dave, but it was not what James Ellroy had originally written. However, it is my opinion that the story that Ellroy originally wrote is too intelligent for audiences and is not translatable to the screen. It’s another well crafted hard-boiled crime story, but it’s no movie. Sadly, Oren Moverman tried to make a film from Ellroy’s script, but only created a rapid-fire montage of images, crudely pieced together in the editing room, with only half of Ellroy’s original story.

In conclusion: I’d rather read the Ellroy script than watch the Moverman film.


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