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Liberal district attorney decides to seek the death penalty for a man who slaughtered a family at Christmastime, then drank their blood. He escapes, though, and starts killing again. Written by
This film is one the great films that never were due to distribution troubles which lead to a five year gap between when the film was released in Europe and when it was released in American. Disastrous for the film but the majority of people who have seen Rampage, say it's a very good film. It is a real shame that this missed most film audiences as it is a very intense, moving and thought provoking drama.
For a film that is mainly based in the courtroom and prison, it is very fast paced. The police chase scenes involving the killer (Alex McArthur) are gripping and echo Friedkin's famous car chase scenes which made French Connection so famous. Rampage's strong point, however, lies firmly in the courtroom scenes. With these scenes, the atmosphere is so strong, that, as a witness, you can not help but be sucked in by it. Towards the end, there is a scene where the prosecutor, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn), stands to the jury and stands in silence for two minutes to represent how long the killer took to murder one victim. This scenes is almost uncomfortable to watch and Biehn's facial expressions tell the whole story.
The acting by Biehn and McArthur is at a very high standard. If this film had earned the recognition it deserved, Biehn would definitely have been a bigger star as the world would have seen that he doesn't just play soldiers. His performance in Rampage is genuinely moving and Fraser's inner conflict surrounding the death penalty is laid bare by Biehn. As expected, he shines in the courtroom scenes where he is shouting and passionate but the subtle moments highlight his skills as an adaptable actor. McArthur as Reese is very chilling to watch. The disturbed nature of his performance is very unnerving and his psychotic episodes are shocking yet worthy of praise. The rest of the cast give performances that do not really stand out but this is fine as it allows concentration on the main characters.
The key man in this production was William Friedkin. His style is all over this film, giving it dark undertones to highlight the evil acts being committed and to increase an already intense atmosphere. His mastery of suspense really helps the dramatic moments and even adds a small dose of surrealist imagery to make the film even more provocative. His dealings with the characters is also worthy of praise as he focuses on Fraser and his wife's history and relationship to help the audience form their impressions on the character. Also with Reese, the exploration of his relationship with his mother and with past acquaintances helps the plot to deepen and add more to the courtroom scenes.
Two important legal issues are raised in this film; firstly, the case of legal insanity. Cases of this nature can go on for a very long time with people trying to prove/ disprove insanity and it is clearly important that these life or death situations are made with the right evidence in place. Rampage does really well handling this issue, especially in the jury scene as it highlights the ambiguity of the issue and the near impossible decision people have to make regarding it. The second issue, the death penalty, is not as well handled by the film. Whilst the characters make very good arguments for and/ or against it, it appears Friedkin was uncertain and sadly left the film with an ending of ambiguity rather than closure. This could simply be a case of Friedkin illustrating that the issue will never be resolved despite the frustrations of others.
A moving and highly entertaining film, Rampage deserved so much more and film audiences deserved to see it. With superb acting from the always brilliant Michael Biehn and with William Friedkin on top form, the film had all the ingredients to be a highly popular film. Atmospheric and disturbing, Rampage proved a powerful vessel for Friedkin to air his views but sadly, the vessel never took off. One of the best courtroom dramas I've seen and one that I'll watch many more times in the future.
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