Director: James Mangold.
Screenplay: James Mangold.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Janeane Garafalo, Noah Emmerich, Cathy Moriarty, John Spencer, Frank Vincent, Malik Yoba, Arthur J. Nascarella, Edie Falco, Paul Calderon, John Doman, Victor Williams, Method Man, Frank Pellegrino, Robert John Burke, John Ventimiglia, Tony Sirico.
“Being right is not a bullet proof vest, Freddy”
The problem with Cop Land, is that it’s full of cops. Well there is that, but in all seriousness, for any fan of the crime genre they will find there are two things that are unavoidable when looking over the cast of the film. One, is legendary director Martin Scorsese and the regulars that feature in his work: There is, of course, DeNiro and Keitel (who need no introduction) but there’s also Liotta (Goodfellas), Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) and Frank Vincent who appears in both the latter two (as well as Casino). Vincent also brings me to the other unavoidable thing… the finest television series on the subject; The Sopranos. By my count, there’s no less than ten cast members that are recognisable throughout six seasons and those well versed will notice; Carmela, Paulie, Artie Bucco and Vincent’s Phil Leotardo, among others.
The New Jersey town of Garrison is populated by cops from the NYPD who have set up their own community to live in peace. As intended, it’s a community that doesn’t need policing but still employs local Sheriff, Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) to oversee things. Freddy always wanted to join the police force but was prevented from doing so because of a childhood accident that left him partially deaf. However, when Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) and his corrupt activities begin to surface it brings it to the attention of Internal Affairs Agent Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro) who may just have the policeman’s job opportunity that Freddy has coveted.Narratively, the film starts very strongly and draws you into the murky depths of police corruption and cops ruling cops. Director James Mangold also seems to know what he’s doing; he builds the tension slowly and assuredly and introduces his characters with confidence. It’s not long before we realise Keitel is one of the shady one’s and firmly in control of his environment. Stallone also happens to establish himself quickly by playing firmly against type. The whole premise of the film is built around Sly and the, seeming inability, to do the job he’s been designated to. It’s quite a distance from most of his action-hero work while the support of a strung out Liotta and doggedly determined DeNiro bring shape to the whole corrupt debacle.All of the supporting players are brilliantly placed but it’s, unsurprisingly, the aforementioned four actors that drive the film. Liotta, Keitel and DeNiro deliver the high calibre expected from them but the biggest surprise is Stallone. He’s wise enough to sit back and let the heavyweights chew the scenery while he subtly underplays it and brings a touching vulnerability to his afflicted Sheriff.With an abundance of talent on display you might ask why Cop Land doesn’t entirely work? Quite simply, it’s a generic and formulaic story. The leads do what they can – and they all get their moment to shine – but the lack of three dimensional characterisation and some redundant plot strands only allow them to go so far. However, despite Mangold’s inability to come up with a solid script, his handling of events and a who’s-who cast are very diligently attuned. It’s also worth noting that the denouement is impressively intense in a High-Noon homage with Mangold, very skilfully, utilising Freddie’s hearing impairment to the utmost effect and manages to turn, what would normally be considered a Hollywood hokum get-out, into a refreshing and satisfying showdown.Alas, the film is not the sum of it’s parts. It had the potential to be a classic but ends up just another attempt at a genre that so many have covered to better results. That said, it’s hard to argue with the cast and the solid performances but because it’s easy to see the potential this film had, it makes it all the more frustrating that it doesn’t quite achieve it. It’s good, but it could’ve been great. As it goes, the problem with Cop Land is that it’s not full of cops, the problem with Cop Land is that’s it’s full of quality actors working under restrained and clichéd material. Mark Walker
Trivia: Sylvester Stallone gained 40 pounds to add realism to his portrayal of the police officer. He also was only paid SAG minimum wages. By the time that reshoots were required, he had lost the weight again.