IN THE OPENING SCENE of Rampart, a jerkbag cop orders his rookie partner to finish a plate of french fries because he doesn't like wasting food. Later, we see the same jerk tearing apart a burrito like it insulted his mother. Is it a coincidence that he's all about protecting white foodstuffs while viciously going to town on food of color? I think not.

Meet "Date Rape" Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a racist cop and terminally crappy dad in Los Angeles circa 1999. When Dave is taped beating a suspect in public, his life and mental health disintegrate. Past sins come back to haunt him, and he must face the fact that he's not the great protector he envisions himself to be.

Co-written by director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) alongside James Ellroy's hard-on for the LAPD, Rampart is as loosely structured as Dave's damaged psyche. Yet it's more than just another riff on Training Day—the emotional violence is more unsettling than the physical punch-ups. When forced to face the damage he's caused his daughters, Harrelson's honesty and tenderness are disarming. Though too long by at least 20 minutes, Rampart's unflinching portrait of a bad man in decline packs a lot of power.