Dave (Harrelson) is struggling to hold his fractured family together while covering up his dodgy activities as a cop in L.A.'s rough Rampart district. He lives with his two ex-wives (Heche and Nixon) and two daughters (Larson and Boyarsky), while developing a tentative relationship with a lawyer (Wright).
But his vigilante-style approach to his job leaves him with few friends, while his addiction to prescription drugs is sending him into a downward spiral. And now he's being harassed by the D.A. (Weaver) and her investigator (Ice Cube).
Dave is so cocky that we're not surprised when everyone he knows turns their backs on him. Like a relic from a pre-politically correct era, he spouts racist and sexist slurs at every turn while admitting that he hates everyone equally.
This makes for a fascinating character, but it leaves the film without a central point: are we supposed to feel sad that the olden days are gone in which cops could do whatever they wanted? As with the similar Training Day, it's impossible to have sympathy when a character like this begins to go under.
Fortunately, Moverman resists the Training Day-style apocalyptic ending for something more interesting and awkward. He also films it in a bristling documentary style, capturing fragments of conversations and filling the film with interaction that's anything but tidy. The supporting cast is impeccable, with Weaver as the standout and Wright lending dignity to a character we never quite believe. Meanwhile, Foster is almost unrecognisable as a homeless snitch, a rather unnecessary character who at least adds texture.
Of course, Harrelson is viscerally watchable, as the trigger-happy Dave digs a very deep hole to fall into, then fights for survival. But as his world falls apart, the depravity becomes merely cartoonish. Indeed, the script spends the first act making sure that we loathe Dave just as much as his friends and family. They don't want to end up as collateral damage while he self-destructs, and neither do we.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 24th February 2012
Box Office USA: $1.0M
Distributed by: Millenium Entertainment
Production compaines: Lightstream Pictures, Waypoint Entertainment, TheThird Mind Pictures, Amalgam Features
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 103 Rotten: 36
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Oren Moverman
Producer: Ben Foster, Lawrence Inglee, Ken Kao, Clark Peterson
Screenwriter: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Starring: Woody Harrelson as Dave Brown, Steve Buscemi as Bill Blago, Ben Foster as General Terry, Robin Wright as Linda Fentress, Jon Bernthal as Dan Morone, Stella Schnabel as Jane, Jon Foster as Michael Whittaker, Ruben Garfias as Pharmacy Security Guard, Deadlee as Pharmacy Punk, Dominic Flores as Latino Detective, Matt McTighe as 30-Year-Old Cop, Cynthia Nixon as Barbara, Anne Heche as Catherine, Brie Larson as Helen, Sammy Boyarsky as Margaret, Billy Hough as Piano Player, Audra McDonald as Sarah, Sigourney Weaver as Joan Confrey, Ned Beatty as Hartshorn, Robert Wisdom as Captain, Ice Cube as Kyle Timkins
Also starring: Oren Moverman