I’ve just come out of a TIFF screening of Oren Moverman‘s Rampart, a corrupt cop L.A. noir starring the great Woody Harrelson. The ending is a problem (a woman behind me went “what?” when the credits came up) but it’s way, way better than Moverman’s first film, The Messenger (’09) — visually, stylistically and definitely performance-wise.

Harrelson is Dave “date rape” Brown — a half-terrified, half-arrogant beat cop in a black-and-white who beats up various perps and suspects, and who killed a suspected rapist back in ’87 and is basically a loose cannon and a madman, but a smart guy all the same. WH carries the film start to finish, but the mostly female supporting cast is aces as well — Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Brie Larson plus Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi.

Moverman rewrote an original script by James Ellroy, which was mainly inspired by the late ’90s Rampart scandal. All the crap and clutter of that scandal, which involved dozens of dirty cops on the take, is pushed to the side in order to focus on Brown, who’s brazenly dirty to start and who keeps digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole.

So Dave is on a downward swirl starting about 20 minutes in and the swirl never quits. It’s slow but inexorable and engulfing. A typical cop drama would use a big windup smash finish to settle Brown’s various problems and set the moral record straight, but Moverman sidesteps this and…well, there’s no big whopping or sadly bittersweet finale. Certainly nothing along, say, the lines of the finale of Touch of Evil, another dark drama about a deeply corrupt lawman.

I would say that Harrelson is now on the map for some possible Best Actor action. This may not fly all the way due to the generally grim tone and the lack of what your average Academy member would call a “satisfying conclusion.” Wright is excellent as a defense attorney who has it off with Dave a few times, and who lets it all out each and every time she’s on-screen.