'Rampart' finds domestic distribution, so it's time to roll out the carpet for Woody Harrelson

Posted by · 6:02 am · September 26th, 2011

Sales at the Toronto Film Festival have become a complex card game over the years as production companies and talent hit the fest with films they want to see in that year’s Oscar race. The goal for many is to land, make a big splash, come out of there with a deal and initiate a campaign to capture the lightning. And often, if the plan isn’t to release that year, well, no deal.

The problem is, films can get lost at Toronto. They can get suffocated. And sometimes, films don’t put their best foot forward by, say, holding for Sundance and stretching things out, rather than attempting to mobilize something as intensive as an awards campaign in three measly months.

Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” is a film I think should have waited for Park City, much like the director’s last effort, “The Messenger.” It’s very much a Sundance film and it could have milked things throughout the year after kicking up steam there in January. But as it stands, it was looking for a Toronto deal and a 2011 release. And now, it has one.

Millennium Films has announced its acquisition of the title with an eye to be in theaters this year. In the press release, Millennium Entertainment CEO Bill Lee says, “Oren”s is one of the great new voices in American film. In ‘Rampart,’ he has created a compelling, genre-bending picture that is not only a poignant look at one man”s fall, but also an exploration of the conflict that often lies between masculinity and redemption.”

Much is made in the release of Millennium Films’ recently-appointed president Mark Gill, and with good reason. Gill cut his teeth early on as a journalist with Newsweek and Los Angeles before moving over to film publicity. He worked on major campaigns at Columbia Pictures in the early-1990s before taking a post as Miramax’s marketing chief, where he worked on Oscar nominees like “Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Sling Blade,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Postman,” “The English Patient,” “Life is Beautiful” and “Shakespeare in Love.” He later founded the short-lived Warner Independent Pictures and joined Millennium in June.

So, naturally, that’s a lot of consulting experience and credibility coming to the table here. And my fingers are crossed, because Woody Harrelson delivers possibly his greatest performance to date in the film and could find room in the Best Actor race with a savvy campaign.

When I saw the film in LA just after its Toronto bow, I wrote that Harrelson’s is “a firehouse performance of subtle strokes and vivid internalizations. I was reminded of Michael Fassbender”s work in “Shame” if only because both performances so wonderfully offer a master class in clenched but emotive power.”

Beyond Harrelson, I could see some love for Moverman and James Ellroy’s hard-boiled screenplay. Moverman was nominated for his work on the page in “The Messenger” two years ago. Harrelson joined him, receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the film. And he really is the story here, so here’s hoping a quality campaign can be built around him. He, and the film, deserve it.

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