Israeli-born director Oren Moverman, whose new film is “Rampart,” opening Friday, worked as a journalist before turning to screenwriting — though his journalism skills still come in handy.
He broke out helping adapt Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” into a 1999 movie. Later, he co-wrote “Married Life,” starring Pierce Brosnan and Rachel McAdams, and 2007’s “I’m Not There,” a kind of analytical biopic about Bob Dylan.
Moverman made a name for himself with his directorial debut, 2009’s “The Messenger,” a subtle, powerful film about two soldiers (Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster) charged with informing civilians about the deaths of their loved ones.
He also received an Oscar nomination for that screenplay. Subsequently, Moverman and Foster formed a production company in New York, and the project “Rampart” was born.
In “Rampart,” Harrelson plays a corrupt Los Angeles cop — known as “Date Rape” Dave because he caught a serial rapist — who’s not above beating a careless motorist after a traffic accident, an incident that is captured on video.
He also tries to profit from a dirty card game, but instead becomes involved in robbery and murder.
“The movie does not go into black and white ... it’s very gray,” Moverman says. “As a law enforcement officer, it’s not right to beat the crap out of this guy. And that’s really where society comes into the equation. How much of this are we really tolerating for the sense of security that we have?”
Moverman, 45, whose research for the film involved spending time with Los Angeles police officers, says the material required an entirely different approach from the respectful one he took on “The Messenger.”
“There were so many contradictions, and a viciousness in L.A.,” Moverman says. “It demanded a certain kind of aggression in the filmmaking.”
Moverman says Harrelson, who has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for the role, found it difficult to shake off the intense character.
“He got into his head,” Moverman says. “There was a lot of pain involved. He was also not really eating, because the character was not really eating. He’s so the opposite of who Woody is.”
Interestingly, both Foster and Harrelson began their careers with a sweet, nice guy appeal. Now they both are dark and daring actors, practically volatile onscreen.
“You know what happened? They became men,” Moverman says. “I really enjoy working with people who are grown up.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Anne Heche
Written by James Ellroy, Oren Moverman
Directed by Oren Moverman
Running time 1 hour 48 minutes