COP LAND, 1997
Directed by: James Mangold
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Rober De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport
Review by Jarred Thomas
The sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community populated by New York City policeman slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption.
Writer/director James Mangold creates a film that examines the underbelly of corruption among New York City cops who reside in New Jersey, bending the rules to fit their needs while hiding a dark secret about a recent murder. Sylvester Stallone plays the morally straight New Jersey cop who suffered an ear injury that has relegated him to only work small time crimes. He has become something of joke among most of the residents, in particular NY cops led by Harvey Keitel who reside in the community.
Stallone’s understated performance plays against type and he does a wonderful job in his role. Stallone gained weight for the role and it adds to the character as he appears slow and out of shape. He looks like a real person and not some caricature. It’s a quiet performance unlike his previous films and one that gained Stallone critical praise from critics and peers.
Freddy Heflin (Stallone) is the sheriff of a fictional town called Garrison in New Jersey. When he was a teenager he jumped into the river to save a girl who plunged in from the bridge. In doing so, he damaged his ear making him unable to become an officer on the streets. Now, he’s relegated to perform small deeds such as preserving the peace, scolding rowdy children and check parking. His authority is limited, if he has any at all.
Cop Land is a look at big city corruption in a small town. Harvey Keitel as Ray Donlan does a nice job in his role playing a corrupt officer who acts with more authority in town then he really has, but when he speaks, people listen out of fear. Donlan has ties with the mob which have allowed him to have certain cops placed in his town, giving the name “Cop Land.” Many of the houses in town were bought through dirty money and the depravity doesn’t end there.
Ray’s nephew, Murray (Rapaport), a young cop, unintentionally kills to two black teens after his car side swipes them. Out of fear of racial incident, Ray tries to fake Murray’s suicide. However, when Moe Tilden (De Niro), an Internal Affairs investigator comes investigating, he smells a cover up. Not willing to get caught, Ray tries to have Murray killed, but the job doesn’t go as planned leading Murray to seek the help of Freddy. Can Freddy stand up against the corruption in town or is he simply out of his league?
Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel both provide a well needed boost of energy in this film because although Stallone does a solid job as the slow witted sheriff, there’s really not much to speak of with the other actors. Liotta plays a good/bad cop whose conscience is starting to get the best of him and his loyalties come into question. But it feels clichéd like most of the other characters who hit only one note.
Cop Land has its strong moments, most coming from the three actors De Niro, Keitel and Stallone, but it’s not entirely enough. Towards the middle of the movie, it meanders a bit like Freddy does, maybe even more. Perhaps Stallone being out of his action element too draws attention to itself, and when he finally picks up a weapon the action scene is far too predictable to be even remotely believable. There’s just not enough to recommend this film despite the standout performance of Stallone.